Assess the view that sociological arguments and evidence support functionalist views of the role and functions of religion in
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Assess the view that sociological arguments and evidence support functionalist views of the role and functions of religion in contemporary society. Functionalists see society as based upon consensus, where each institution functions to help society work together as a whole with shared ways of thinking and behaving. So for functionalists such as Durkheim and Parsons religion is a way of integration and social control. They believe that the shared rituals and collective worship of religion help reinforce the consensual values and norms of society, and that without these shared values society could not function. Secondly it is thought to be a form of social control, providing divine backing and answers for society's rules, so people will abide by them. Functionalists such as Malinowski also believe that it is a way of coming to terms with life challenging events like death, marriage etc. For example the religious ceremonies enable individuals to cope with the life crisis by controlling their stress and anxiety whilst getting support ensuring they remain part of society. There is also the concept of civil religion, Durkheim argues that religion is in actual fact the worship of society and not a supernatural god.
This expression of social solidarity reintegrates society. A second theory Malinowski puts forward is that religion is also a way of dealing with uncertainty and unpredictability, for example he noticed while studying the Trobriands that when the fishing was dangerous and uncertain rituals often preceded to ensure a good catch and the fishermen's safety. He therefore concluded that in situations which produce anxiety, religious rituals reduce the uncertainty by providing confidence and a sense of control. As for Parsons, he agrees with both Durkheim and Malinowski on some of their ideas, such as, Parsons believes that religion helps provide guidelines for human action. One example of this would be Christian belief in the Ten Commandments, these rules are seen as sacred and Christians aim to lead their lives according to these rules. It is essentially a form of instilling shared values and norms to society necessary according to Durkheim for the collective conscience. Also like Malinowski, Parsons sees Religion as a way of dealing with uncertainties and crises in life, he agrees that certain events can disrupt the normal order of things and that religion is a way of maintaining social stability by releasing the tension and stress they can cause.
Unlike the functionalists who see the social control as helping to promote consensus, Marxists believe that religion promotes inequality and that it acts like a drug by helping to create the false conscience. It is seen as giving the subordinate group a false sense of reality and illusions of happiness so that they would question their role in society and accept their exploitation. Finally Feminists see religion as a patriarchal ideology, where beliefs support and legitimize gender inequality, this is because of such religions where females have to cover up from head to toe and be limited in what they do. Or for example in this country where women are not allowed to be priests. For Feminists religion is a way of oppressing women, not a way of promoting consensus. To conclude there are several arguments and evidence both for and against the Functionalist view of religion, the evidence can be manipulated either way. Depending on which theory is followed the way religion is viewed will be dominated by that ideology. For functionalists all evidence supports their view but Marxists can take the same evidence and turn it around to show the exact opposite. Some things however such as the religious wars cannot be ignored and cannot be manipulated to prove anything other than religion can be involved in conflict.
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