Evaluate arguments for and against the claim that religion is essentially a conservative force in society.

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Charlene Douglas

Sociology – Religion Essay

Evaluate arguments for and against the claim that religion is essentially a conservative force in society.

 A conservative force can be defined as a tradition that stops change from taking place and keeps things stable. For religion to be described as a conservative force would mean that it does just that. There are arguments both for and against this statement and they will be explored in this essay.

Functionalists believe that religion acts as a conservative force in society. They feel that religion creates consensus and harmony. From a functionalist perspective religion creates order and order is necessary in a well-run society. They believe that religion supports traditional values and that problems such as anomie will not arise if religion is prevalent.

A classic functionalist view on religion is that of Durkheim. Durkheim feels that religion links people together and provides social solidarity. He argues that religion is about beliefs and social practices, for example attending worship. Durkheim argues that religions link people together into communities. He says that the linking into communities arise because people practice together. He feels that the rituals they practice increase social solidarity. He felt that social life is impossible without the shared values and moral beliefs that form the collective conscience. Durkheim believes that without the presence of these things there would be no social order, social control, social solidarity or cooperation.

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Someone that supports Durkhiems view that religion has reinforcing social norms and values is Malinowski. However unlike Durkheim he does not see religion as a reflection of society as a whole in addition he does not see religious ritual as the worship of society itself. Malinowski says that throughout life we have to deal with many crises’ and these are all surrounded with religious ritual. Malinowski’s basic argument is that one of the main functions of religion is to check and reduce emotions, which threaten to disturb society. For example the religious ceremony after a person dies helps people ...

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