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Which theoretical interpretation of the role of religion in society do you find most convincing. Give reasons for your answer.

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Introduction

Which theoretical interpretation of the role of religion in society do you find most convincing. Give reasons for your answer. The fact that religion seems to have continually played an important role in every known society should highlight the idea that religion serves some sort of purpose. The various sociological explanations of this purpose are what the key is. The questions that arise include, why people believe in "gods", "spirits" and "supernatural beings" and the reasons for the existence of religious beliefs and practices. When we look at theories of religion, the focus is therefore on the way religious behaviour differs between and within societies and the consequences for social interaction of religious activity and organisation. Functionalist sociologists focus their attention on the nature of institutional relationships in society. This Structuralist perspective focuses on the ways individual behaviour results from the nature of institutional relationships in society. According to Parsons, for example, all institutions in society (family, work, education, religion and so on) have a particular set of functions. Cultural institutions, from a Functionalist perspective, develop to create and maintain of a sense of order and community in society. Their main function is to provide the individual with a set of meanings (values) that make sense of society. Religion, which is a cultural institution, serves to reaffirm existing values and maintain social stability and order. ...read more.

Middle

There seems to be a certain plausibility in Durkheim's argument, however we also need to be aware that there is a kind of circular argument involved here (also known as tautology) and this represents an initial point of criticism of Durkheim's argument. For Durkheim, the collective affirmation of the sacred functioned to draw people together to promote integration and social solidarity. It existed to meet the needs of the people involved. But, in order for religion to have this function, society must exist prior to its establishment. Thus, we have a unusual form of reasoning in which society needs to develop cultural expressions of solidarity, whilst these expressions function to create society. Sociologists have criticised Durkheim for his incomplete knowledge of religious practice and his reliance on secondary sources, he did not observe personally the religious practices about which he wrote. By emphasising the integrating aspects of religion as the basis for social solidarity, conformity to group values and so on, Durkheim has neglected to look at religion as a source of conflict and social change. It can be seen that religion can be used to the interests of various groups within society. So religion as a force for conflict and change can be set against the interests of an established social order. Karl Marx provides an alternative theory of religion to Functionalist writers such as Durkheim and Parsons Marx's basic arguments can be considered as criticisms of Functionalist theories. ...read more.

Conclusion

Marx's theory would suggest the ruling class use religion for their interest but in this case religion was used to gain awareness of the apartheid regime which implemented inequality and injustice which in Marx's theory was the role of religion to legitimise such things. The analysis of each theoretical perspective's view on the role of religion has not enabled me to clearly support a specific theory. This is because I find certain aspects of all the theories of religion convincing and also certain aspects less convincing. The role of religion as a means of maintaining social order from the Functionalist view is true as it gives people moral guidelines that they adhere to. Also you can see how certain laws and legislation are influenced by religion such as you are not allowed to steal as in the Ten Commandments it is seen as a sin. But this theory does not take into account the fact that religion can be a source of conflict like in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East. In addition not all religious views are in line with society's beliefs. The Marxist perspective on the role of religion can also be valid as a way of dulling the pain of life and justifying the social order. As people accept their suffering and social position as they believe they will be rewarded in the after life. But the view of it as an ideological tool for the dominant class and to create a false class consciousness may be questionable as it can be the means of revolutionary social change. ...read more.

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