Assess the view that religion is a conservative force within society (40).

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Assess the view that religion is a conservative force within society (40).

A number of sociologists argue that religion is a conservative force in society, that is, it produces stability not change within society and it reinforces the shared needs and values of society.  For some sociologists this is a positive effect – the view of consensus theorists, for others it is a negative one – the view endorsed by conflict theorists.

Durkheim is a consensus theorist, sometimes referred to as the father of functionalism, he supports the view that religion is a conservative force in society, reinforcing the existing society of society.  He argued that religion should not be explained in terms of human ignorance, but as a result of shared social needs.  He adopted a broad definition of religion throughout his analysis and defined it as a unified belief system of beliefs about the nature of sacred things.  For Durkheim, shared religious belief systems were central to societal consensus as they set rules for social interaction and offered social solidarity and value consensus.  In his book, “Elementary Forms of Religious Life”, he examined the sources of order and stability in society and highlighted the part that religion played in sustaining this order.  Durkheim viewed religion as being a major source of social integration – all religious activity has one main function - the celebration of the community.  Religion is not about the worship of god, but of society.  People are drawn together through religious activity and this helps to create a value consensus and a common belief system containing the collective morality of that society.  Durkheim saw religion as being social cement, binding people together.  Durkheim’s conclusions are based on his analysis of aboriginal society.  

Durkheim said that in order to understand religion it is vital to recognize the difference between the sacred (spiritual/religious) and the profane (not religious/secular).  He believed that sacred items are assigned their spirituality by society and are an embodiment of the core values which society strives to embrace.  Like Comte, the founder of sociology, Durkheim believed that eventually society would secularise and religion would virtually disappear or be replaced by a new religion and other representations of society would take its place, like technology.  Technology demonstrates values of enterprise, initiative, materialism, mass commercialism and so forth – things very valuable to society today.

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Durkheim saw religion as a positive force within society as it has essential and beneficial effects for society.  In formulating his theory of religion, Durkheim thought it necessary to find evidence that could be used to support his views.  He supported his theory by using secondary research on Aboriginals – research that someone else had already carried out.  He decided to study the Australian Aboriginal society as it was simpler to study that complex westernised societies and therefore the effects of religion on that society were more apparent and obvious and therefore were easier to record.  All societies, he ...

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The writer has spelled the names of some key theorists wrong; it should be “Karl Marx” not “Carl Marx”, and “Otto Maduro” not “Otto Manduro”. Nonetheless these few mistakes would not lessen the overall high marks this essay would be sure to receive – it is very impressive at GCSE level and, to be honest, is just as good as lots of A Level essays I have seen. The quality of writing is quite good because the candidate uses a variety of punctuation, for example quotation marks and brackets, and also doesn’t make any major grammatical errors.

Key terms are used correctly, “the elect”, “socialisation”, “revolutionary force” and are explained correctly, “...and the profane (not religious/secular)” which demonstrates sociological understanding. As this is essentially a purely theoretical question, the candidate does well to mention as many theories and theorists as possible, such as Durkheim’s “analysis of aboriginal society”. Usually Calvinism, Marxism and Neo-Marxism are poorly understood at GCSE so this essay is rather superior to lots I have seen – this candidate clearly knows them all inside out as they write a wealth of information about each one. Different areas of the globe are discussed; “North of Europe” “Northern Island”, “Iran” which is refreshing because it shows that religion may be a conservative force in some countries but not others. Candidates tend to completely focus on the UK in Sociology, which decreases the amount of marks to potentially be awarded as sociology is the study of all different societies around the world.

The writer provides a good introduction, explaining consensus and conflict theories which are essential to understand in order to answer the question. It is correctly structured because it provides the Functionalist Durkheim’s views that religion is indeed a conservative force (which the question asks for) and then continues to discuss theories of Marxism, Feminism, Calvinism and Neo-Marxism - so it addresses religion as a radical force also, therefore gaining lots of evaluative marks. This essay is well concluded, “There are more cases of religion being a conservative force in society than there are of it being a radical one” because the writer provides a final assessment of the question, coming to answer after considering both sides throughout. Overall this is already very impressive at GCSE level!