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Identify and briefly explain two problems in assessing the influences of religion in modern society

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Introduction

RELIGION - 09/02 A) Identify and briefly explain two problems in assessing the influences of religion in modern society (8) The functionalist perspective examines religion in terms of society's needs. Functionalist analysis is primarily concerned with the contribution religion makes to meeting these needs. From this perspective, society requires a certain degree of social solidarity, value consensus, and harmony and integration between its parts. Durkheim believed that social life is impossible without the shared values and moral beliefs that form the 'collective conscience'. In their absence, there would be no social order, social control, social solidarity or cooperation. In short, there would be no society. Religion reinforces the collective conscience. The worship of society strengthens the values and moral beliefs that form the basis of social life. By defining them as sacred, religion provides them with greater power to direct human action. This attitude of respect towards the sacred is the same attitude applied to social duties and obligations. In worshipping societies, people are, in effect, recognising the importance of the social group and their dependence upon it. In this way religion strengthens the unity of the group; it promotes social solidarity. Although Durkheim's views on religion are only relevant to small, non-literate societies, where there is a close integration of culture and social institutions, where work, leisure, education and family life tend to merge, and where members share a common belief and value system. ...read more.

Middle

Thus he suggested that in worshipping god, people are in fact worshipping society. In worshipping society, sacred things are considered superior in dignity and power to profane things and particularly to man. In relation to the sacred, humans are inferior and dependent. This relationship between humanity and sacred things is exactly the relationship between humanity and society. Society is more important powerful than the individual. In his evaluation, Durkheim argued, it is easier for a person to 'visualise and direct his feelings of awe toward a symbol than towards so complex a thing as a clan. Durkheim further emphasized the importance of collective worship. The social group comes together in religious rituals full of drama and reverence. Together, its members express their faith in common values and beliefs. In this atmosphere of collective worship, the integration of society is strengthened. Members of society express, communicate, and understand the moral bonds which unite them. Like Durkheim, Malinowski sees religion as reinforcing social norms and values and promoting social solidarity. Unlike Durkheim, however, he does not see religion as reflecting society as whole, nor does he see religious ritual as the worship itself. Malinowski identifies specific areas of social life with which religion is concerned, and to which it is addressed. These are situations of emotional stress that threaten social solidarity. ...read more.

Conclusion

The Christian vision of heaven can make life more bearable by giving people something to look forward to. Some religions make a virtue of a suffering produced by oppression. In particular, those who bear deprivations of poverty with dignity and humility will be rewarded for their virtue. Religion thus makes poverty more tolerable by offering a reward for suffering and promising compensation for injustice in the afterlife. Religion can offer the hope of supernatural intervention to solve problems on earth. Members of religious groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses live in anticipation of the day when the supernatural powers will descent from on high and create heaven on earth. Anticipation of this future can make the present more acceptable. Religion often justifies the social order and a person's position within it. God can be seen as creating and ordaining the social structure, evident in the hymn 'All things bright and beautiful'. Religion not only cushions the effects of oppression but acts as a mechanism of social control, maintaining the existing system of exploitation and re reinforcing class relationships. Put simply, it keeps people in their place. By making unsatisfactory lives bearable, religion tends to discourage people from attempting to change their situation. By offering an illusion of hope in a hopeless situation, it prevents thoughts of overthrowing the system. By providing explanations and justifications for social situations, religion distorts reality. It helps produce a false class consciousness. Sanjay Mistry Religion 09/02 ...read more.

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