Assess the usefulness of functionalist theories in understanding religion today

933 words 4 pages
Assess the usefulness of functionalist theories in understanding religion today (33 marks)

Functionalists have put forward their perspective on religion and how it benefits both society and the individual starting with how religion brings people together harmoniously, creating social cohesion and a sense of belonging as people believe in the same thing and all abide by the same rules. Religion creates and maintains a value consensus whilst giving society social order. By conforming to religious beliefs this allows us to gain morals and therefore Functionalists see religion as a positive aspect to society.

Durkheim defines religion as “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things”. He says all societies
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His analysis was based on flawed evidence as he misunderstood both Totemism and the behaviour of the Aborigines. As a result of Durkheim’s research it could be argued that the Functionalist views of religion are not useful. This is because there may be cultural differences which prevent him from understanding the behaviours displayed in non-western society. Therefore it could lead to results that may be misrepresentative of all viewpoints on religion. His data may not be applicable to today’s society because of the diverse nature of different cultures.
Some critics may argue that the Functionalist perspective is outdated and therefore not representative of modern society. They suggest that society needs religion to function and keep social order thus without it society would break down. Although secularisation of religion appears to be occurring society is still functioning.

It could also be argued that religion can create conflict and division amongst society, for example there have been several world conflicts due to religious beliefs which highlights that religion does not create social solidarity as the functionalists suggest.
Marxists however criticise the functionalist view as they argue religion is a unifying source that strengthens the value consensus and is a feature of all society. They see religion as a feature only of class-divided society. In such a society, there is always the potential for class conflict, and Marx predicted that the working


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