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Compare and contrast the Functionalist and Marxist explanations of the role of religion in society.

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Introduction

Compare and contrast the Functionalist and Marxist explanations of the role of religion in society. Functionalists take a reductionist view point, reducing the role of religion to its mere functions. They consider religion to be necessary and inevitable as it serves to ensure the stability and equilibrium of society. In this way therefore religion is functional to hold back anomie. As a system of shared norms and values, religion assists socialisation and creates social cement which promotes social harmony. Functionalists therefore see this as a normal, positive and safe state for society to be in. In particular religion is seen to support value consensus, integrating and patterning standards of behaviour by the values and beliefs held by its cultural system. As such, religion provides guidelines for human actions, and standards against which human conduct can be measured. By sharing these standards social accord maintains equilibrium, and so in turn religion is a tool for meeting this prerequisite. Parsons was interested in how guidelines for conduct were a reflection of how religion has brought meaning to life. He says one of the main functions of religion is to "make sense" of all experiences in life, no matter how meaningless or contradictory they seem. ...read more.

Middle

It is the process of uniting for a common purpose that is considered 'sacred' that gives them strength. Malinowski did however note this as magic, but others have commented on how this functions religiously, and can be regarded as a religious practice. This example therefore further promotes the functionalist view that religion promotes social solidarity, and is therefore functional to the well-being of society in dealing with stresses that threaten its stability. In contrast to this view, Marxists note religion as playing a crucially different role in society. Unlike Functionalists, who see religion as serving society as a whole, Marxists say religion benefits only those who own productive wealth because it merely masks and legitimates exploitation and inequality in society. A recent example of this that Steve Bruce discussed was with conservative Protestants in USA. The New Christian Right consistently supported right-wing political candidates in the Republic Party, more specifically Ronald Reagan in 1984 elections. Yet in the 1988 elections he was challenged by New Christian Right candidate Pat Robertson. Robertson, a television evangelist, wanted to enforce a more aggressive anti-communist rule, with less welfare spending and more free enterprises. Bruce noted therefore that the religious group sought to defend the interests of the rich and powerful over the subject classes. ...read more.

Conclusion

the Catholic Church, and in particular its leaders, have displayed their autonomy by acting against the bourgeoisie's interests when it conflicts with their religious customs. Potentially therefore, some Neo-Marxists see religion is an outlet for its members' grievances and a channel though which they can resist oppression. From this therefore the liberation theory has developed and we can see how religion can function to enforce change rather than prevent it. Martin Luther King for example, a political and religious leader, used religion to justify new civil rights and the reduction of racial discrimination. Archbishop Tutu opposed the apartheid in South Africa also, using religion to change people's way of thinking, and thus bring about change. In conclusion we can see how Functionalists and Marxists have largely different views on the role of religion in society. Traditionally they would both agree that it prevents change but even this is debatable within both persuasions. There are also internal debates on whether religion serves society as a whole or simply its members and the individual. Functionalism tends to take a very inclusive attitude towards analysing religion's role and often fails to recognise its negative influences, while Marxists take a very negative view, failing to recognise how religion is necessary to maintain equilibrium. 1 Olivia Santiago ...read more.

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