Assess the view that sociological arguments and evidence support functionalist views of the role and functions of religion in contemporary society

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Abi Whitley 13SS

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.  One example of this is the Ten Commandments which include a number of the principles highlighted in the U.K law system. As a result of this, functionalists such as Durkheim and Parsons see religion as a means of integration and social control within society. 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.  Sociologist Bellah believes that there is a much stronger sense of consensus values in the USA, where strong religious roots are very apparent through American’s worshipping of the flag, thus worshipping their country. Parsons however still believes that this can also be seen in Britain. Functionalists also see religion as a form of social control, providing religious 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 changing events like death, marriage and baptisms, helping individuals within society to work through the crises of life.

The question of whether or not religion is still relevant in a postmodern society is dependent upon a number of factors. Malinowski, a functional anthropologist, supported religion through the idea that religion is needed by individuals at times of emotional distress or significance; times he called the Crises of Life. He claimed that religion brings hope and comfort to individuals, and that it offers and encourages ”valuable mental attitudes” in distressing situations. One example of this is where at funerals, mourners of the deceased may gain hope from the idea that their loved one has gone to a better place i.e. heaven and this idea often brings mourners together, and helps them to grieve.  Malinowski first observed this behavior in the Trobiand Islands where the islanders would fish in the calm lagoon without a thought for prayer or religion. However, when they went to fish in the stormy open seas the islanders were said to see the need to take part in religious rituals beforehand, thus supporting Malinowski’s Crises of Life.

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Talcott Parsons also supports the idea of religion bringing social solidarity. He believed that in times of crisis looking towards religion for answers that could not be found elsewhere was immensely comforting, and often the main reason that individuals turn to religion. One example of this is the way in which places of worship are often placed in areas of poverty. This suggests that those living in these areas feel the need to turn to religion to help comfort them through the difficult times. This idea however links in with Weber’s idea of the ‘Theodicy of disprivilege. This is the ...

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