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Religion as a social glue

Or when is a god a society in

disguise? The Functionalist
perspective on religion.
Functionalist views on Religion
Functionalists are concerned with how societies
maintain themselves in an orderly fashion.
They say that societies try to generate value
consensus, which is when individuals share
the same norms & values. When studying
institutions such as religion, they ask
themselves: "What part does religion (or the
family...or the education system...or the
media...) play in maintaining social order?
What are its functions for society as a
Religion and Social Change
Durkheim regarded Nationalism and
Communism as the new religions of
industrial society, taking over from
Flag waving, nationalism etc are the new
forms of displaying collective
Totemism is a view of nature and
Totemism life, of the universe and man,
which colours and influences the
Aborigines' social groupings and
mythologies, inspires their rituals
and links them to the past. It unites
them with nature's activities and
species in a bond of mutual life-
giving, and imparts confidence
amidst the vicissitudes of life. The
totem provides a tangible
expression of a man's relationship
to his deities. Everything in the
Aboriginal world contains an
essence or spirit that had its
beginnings in the Dreamtime.

The clans people of the crow believe they are descended from
the Dreamtime's crow spirit who became a man.

argued that it was the function of religion to

distinguish the sacred from the profane. This
shared sense of the sacred helps to bind
societies together. Durkheim looked at
studies of Australian Aborigines, who had a
religion called totemism. In worshipping their
totem, a tribe was worshipping a symbol of
itself. This created social solidarity through
a collective conscience.
Talcott Parsons

American Functionalist Talcott Parsons

said that religion provides "core values"
for societies, and tries to make sense of
unanswerable questions about death and
the meaning of life. By strengthening
norms, religion creates cultural

Malinowski was an anthropologist who

studied the Trobriand Islands. (Again, a
small-scale, preliterate society - do these
ideas apply to industrial societies like the
UK?) He found that the tribe used religion
in coping with life crises, and with
prediction and control. This helps
prevent social disruption and unifies the
Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942)
Compelled anthropology out
of the armchair
advocated participant
observation, learning the
language--stressed need to
document the native's
focus on 3 main types of
1. institutions and customs
2. the imponderablia of
everyday life
3. narratives, folklore,

Bellah and his ideas of how civil religion

helps to give Americans a faith in their
country and their way of life.
Investigation in pairs

Take Durkheims concept of collective

conscience work in pairs.
Think of ways in which sport played by
national teams, has become a new
religion in the UK today.
Do National successes in sports become
an important element?
As well as remembering some of the above, you
should be able to apply it to everyday situations.
Making sense of bereavement? Church attendance
increasing in America in the aftermath of the terrorist
attacks. Prediction and control? Remember how you
started praying when your rabbit got sick or when you
thought you (or girlfriend) might be pregnant (Joke!).
You should also be able to evaluate the theory. It
doesn't explain increasing secularisation (decline in
religion and its influence). It doesn't explain how
religion can often be the source of conflict rather
than harmony: Northern Ireland, between Arabs &
Jews, between different churches.

Activity religious beginnings

Activity belief net

Note taking

Functions of religion in modern society

Social integration
Civil religion
Preventing anomie
Coping with stress
Criticisms of functionalism
Functionalism: refocus

The key concern of functionalist

writing on religion is the contribution
that religion makes to the well-being of
society; its contribution to social
stability and, value-consensus.
Methodology as an evaluative point

Elementary Forms was based on bad

(and second hand) anthropology. It is
argued that Durkheim misunderstood
both totemism and the aboriginal tribes
on which his study was based.
It is claimed that Durkheim's analysis is
not applicable to societies that
are typified by cultural diversity
Marxists next week
Marxists would argue that religion far from being an
instrument of social solidarity, is an instrument of social
control and exploitation. However Durkheim clearly
recognised this:
Religion instructed the humble to be content with
their situation, and, at the same time, it taught them
that the social order is providential; that it is god
himself who has determined each one's share,
religion gave man a perception of a world beyond
this earth where everything would be rectified; this
prospect made inequalities seem less noticeable, it
stopped men from feeling aggrieved.
Religion and Social Change
'Religion is a kind of spiritual
gin in which the slaves of
capital drown their human
shape and their claims to any
decent life'