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Critically compare Functionalist and Marxist theories of religion

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Essay: Critically compare Functionalist and Marxist theories of religion Religion beliefs of one sort or another are present in every known society but their variety seems to be endless and it is therefore difficult to produce a broad definition. Two main approaches that look at religion can be used though and these are the Marxist and Functionalist theories. All definitions emphasize certain aspects of religion and exclude others. Functional definitions tend to be too inclusive - it is too easy to qualify as a religion; while substantive ones tend to be too exclusive - it is too difficult to qualify as a religion. Marxism and functionalism are generally seen as fundamental opposites. They do have some similarities but there are generally very clear differences between the two approaches, which is why they must be looked at and compared in closer detail... Marxism provides an alternative theory of religion to Functionalist writers such as Comte and Durkheim. ...read more.


It was seen by Marx and other Marxists to be a dangerous and oppressive system that had to be abolished. The following quote shows Marx's position as just described: "The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give-up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give-up a condition which needs illusions.". Marx is thus arguing two things - firstly, that religious ideologies provide people with a sense of well-being and contentment that is an illusion. Secondly, that the need for illusions about the world comes from the conditions under which people live meaning at times we create illusions but for certain reasons in our life that are not necessarily clear above the surface. However, Functionalist sociologists focus their attention on the nature of institutional relationships in society. This perspective concentrates on the various ways individual behaviour results from the nature of institutional relationships in society. ...read more.


Thus, in the above respect, whilst we might expect to see a decline in the importance of religion as an aspect of modern societies, religious beliefs, values and ideologies will persist because religion is such a flexible, adaptable framework for the explanation of "certain things in our everyday lives. In some ways though, it can be argued that both theories have weak areas. For example, they both similarly fail to consider secularization. The ideological power of religion is undermines by the fact that less than 10% of people attend church. Either way, the comparisons are clear through such sociologists work as Durkheim, Malinowski and Marx, and can easily be concluded despite some similarities like the example above. The functionalist perspective examines religion in terms of society's needs and that the function of religion is the contribution it makes to meeting such functional prerequisites. Yet, Marxism tells us that religion is an illusion which eases the pain produced by exploitation and oppression and is a distortion or reality. ...read more.

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