Functionalist
Theories of Religion
A02
Miss Russell
Bilton School
To Start:

Make a list of all the key terms of
Functionalism and religion (in
particular Durkheim’s theory).
Define them! ...
To Start:
• Collective conscience: a set of values and moral
attitudes shared by everyone in a society.
• Consensus: Widel...
Thinking Ladder…

To
Durkheim’s
Theory of Religion.
To

&

additional
functionalist theories of
religion.
To
the
functiona...
How will I know if I am learning?
By the end of the lesson…
E

Will be able to explain additional Functionalist
explanatio...
Task: Durkheim evaluation
What does this
image suggest
about religion?

Use it to try and
evaluate
Durkheim’s
theory…
Char...
Task: Durkheim evaluation
1) Is Totemism a comprehensive piece of
evidence for Durkheim’s Theory? Can it
apply to all reli...
Durkheim evaluation
• The evidence on totemism is unsound. No sharp
division between the sacred and the profane. Even
if D...
Durkheim evaluation
• Durkheim’s ideas cannot be applied to
contemporary society, because increasing
diversity has fragmen...
Functionalist Theory Malinowski (1954)
Which is more dangerous….? Why?

How could religion help you with this?
Charlotte R...
Functionalist Theory: Malinowski (1954)

Solidarity is promoted through religion…
however religion promotes solidarity by
...
Functionalist Theory: Malinowski (1954)
He states two situations in which religion performs this function by studying
Trob...
Functionalist Theory: Malinowski (1954)

How might religious
practice help at the
time of a major
bereavement?

Charlotte ...
Functionalist Theory: Malinowski (1954)
2) At times of life crisis…
Death, birth, puberty, marriage.
Religion helps to min...
Functionalist Theories

Read theories of Bellah and Parsons on page 11 of the
textbook. Consider how they are similar and ...
Bellah (1967)
• In modern multi-faith societies, the bonding (social
solidarity) is through civil religion. (A functional
...
Bellah (1967)
• Despite America’s social divisions, they are
united by a civil religion (Americanism), in a
way that indiv...
A civil religion in the UK?
• Can you think widespread / visible
expressions of British civil religion?

7/7
Charlotte Rus...
But: Beckford (2003)
• Occasions when UK is drawn
together by rituals & events
“It is doubtful that these occasions can

c...
Parsons (1965): Values & Meaning
• Religion helps people to deal with ‘life crises’ (like
Malinowski!)
However he identifi...
Parsons (1965)
Religion provides answers to
‘eternal’ questions
suffering?

justice?

life after death?
Charlotte Russell
...
Let’s Evaluate Functionalism Theories of Religion!

Try and evaluate the
Functionalist approach to
religion.
Think about w...
Functionalism evaluation
• Functionalism emphasises the social nature of religion and the positive
functions it performs, ...
Functionalism evaluation
• Marxists point out that religion can actually be dysfunctional for
society. One examples of thi...
Homework
• Identify and explain 3 ways in which
religion is said to be functional for society
(9)

• Using material from I...
Essay guidance
• 6 A01 marks
12 A02 marks
• You need to explain why and how functionalists see religion
as beneficial both...
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  1. 1. Functionalist Theories of Religion A02 Miss Russell Bilton School
  2. 2. To Start: Make a list of all the key terms of Functionalism and religion (in particular Durkheim’s theory). Define them! Can you remember what they mean? Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  3. 3. To Start: • Collective conscience: a set of values and moral attitudes shared by everyone in a society. • Consensus: Widely shared beliefs, norms, and values system. • Totemism: the worship of an object or animal that has a divine significance. • Sacred: things set apart and forbidden, that inspire feelings of awe, fear and wonder, and are surrounded by taboos and prohibitions. • Profane: are things that have no special significance – things that are ordinary and mundane. Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  4. 4. Thinking Ladder… To Durkheim’s Theory of Religion. To & additional functionalist theories of religion. To the functionalist view of religion as a whole.
  5. 5. How will I know if I am learning? By the end of the lesson… E Will be able to explain additional Functionalist explanations to Durkeim’s Theory. C Will be able to evaluate Durkheim’s Theory. A Will be able to explain Durkheim’s theory of religion in detail using key terms.
  6. 6. Task: Durkheim evaluation What does this image suggest about religion? Use it to try and evaluate Durkheim’s theory… Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  7. 7. Task: Durkheim evaluation 1) Is Totemism a comprehensive piece of evidence for Durkheim’s Theory? Can it apply to all religions? 2) What kind of societies might Durkheim’s Theory be more applicable to? Why? 3) Is there a single shared value system? Why? Had there used to be one? Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  8. 8. Durkheim evaluation • The evidence on totemism is unsound. No sharp division between the sacred and the profane. Even if Durkheim is right about totemism, this idea does not prove that he has discovered the essence of all other religions. • Durkheim’s theory may apply better to small-scale societies with a single religion Or large worldly religions who have a belief in supernatural/God). • Harder to apply to situations where two or more religious communities may be in conflict. His theory may explain social integration within communities, but not the conflicts between them. Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  9. 9. Durkheim evaluation • Durkheim’s ideas cannot be applied to contemporary society, because increasing diversity has fragmented the collective conscience, so there is no longer a single shared value system for religion to reinforce. • He only studied small number of Aboriginal groups (untypical). • Most agree with promotion of social solidarity, but disagree that it is worship of society. • Definition of religion doesn't incorporate all religions. Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  10. 10. Functionalist Theory Malinowski (1954) Which is more dangerous….? Why? How could religion help you with this? Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  11. 11. Functionalist Theory: Malinowski (1954) Solidarity is promoted through religion… however religion promotes solidarity by performing psychological functions, helping people to cope with emotional distress. If undealt with, this distress would break down the social solidarity. Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  12. 12. Functionalist Theory: Malinowski (1954) He states two situations in which religion performs this function by studying Trobriand islanders of the Western Pacific. 1) Where the outcome is important but uncontrollable and uncertain.. Safe and uses predictable method of poisoning. No ritual needed. Dangerous and uncertain. Canoe Magic performed – rituals to ensure safety. This gives people a sense of control and confidence to undertake hazardous tasks. ‘God of the Gaps’ – fills the gaps in human control. Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  13. 13. Functionalist Theory: Malinowski (1954) How might religious practice help at the time of a major bereavement? Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  14. 14. Functionalist Theory: Malinowski (1954) 2) At times of life crisis… Death, birth, puberty, marriage. Religion helps to minimise disruption to solidarity in social groups. Funeral rituals reinforce a sense of solidarity among survivors. Life after death gives a sense of comfort. Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  15. 15. Functionalist Theories Read theories of Bellah and Parsons on page 11 of the textbook. Consider how they are similar and different to the theories we have already studied. Similarities Charlotte Russell Differences Bilton School
  16. 16. Bellah (1967) • In modern multi-faith societies, the bonding (social solidarity) is through civil religion. (A functional alternative/equivalent to religion). Bellah argues a belief in God isn’t always a requirement for a religion as long as the beliefs perform the same function. E.g. In USA, the civil religion = Americanism - uses religious images / phrases - promotes national identity - includes all religions - the common ‘God’ being worshipped is someone who embraces all Americans Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  17. 17. Bellah (1967) • Despite America’s social divisions, they are united by a civil religion (Americanism), in a way that individual religion cannot. • Widespread loyalty to the nation state. • Expressed in the form of rituals, symbols and beliefs – e.g. national anthem. • God + Americanism = hand in hand! Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  18. 18. A civil religion in the UK? • Can you think widespread / visible expressions of British civil religion? 7/7 Charlotte Russell Queen’s Xmas speech Bilton School
  19. 19. But: Beckford (2003) • Occasions when UK is drawn together by rituals & events “It is doubtful that these occasions can compensate for the UK’s deep social divisions & high rate of religious diversity and indifference. If the UK has a civil religion it is at best occasional, and at worst weak” Can a Civil Religion really be thought of as a proper religion when it ignores the supernatural? Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  20. 20. Parsons (1965): Values & Meaning • Religion helps people to deal with ‘life crises’ (like Malinowski!) However he identifies two other essential functions of religion: 1) It creates and legitimates society’s central values – norms and values are made sacred. Promotes value consensus! 2) It is the primary source of meaning! It answers ultimate questions. E.g. Why do people die young? Without answers to these questions life would appear meaningless and we might not believe in society’s values. Answers = stability! Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  21. 21. Parsons (1965) Religion provides answers to ‘eternal’ questions suffering? justice? life after death? Charlotte Russell villains prosper? Bilton School
  22. 22. Let’s Evaluate Functionalism Theories of Religion! Try and evaluate the Functionalist approach to religion. Think about what Marxist and Feminist theories might say… Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  23. 23. Functionalism evaluation • Functionalism emphasises the social nature of religion and the positive functions it performs, but it neglects negative aspects, such as religion as a source of oppression of the poor or women. • It ignores religion as source of division and conflict, especially in complex modern societies where there is more than one religion – e.g. Northern Ireland. Where there is religious pluralism (many religions), it is hard to see how it can unite people and promote integration. • The idea of civil religion overcomes this problem to some extent, by arguing that societies may still have an overarching belief system share by all, but is this really religion – especially if it is not based on belief in the supernatural? Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  24. 24. Functionalism evaluation • Marxists point out that religion can actually be dysfunctional for society. One examples of this is Northern Ireland, where there has been a history of violent conflict between Catholics and Protestants. • It is argued that Western societies are becoming secular, with declining church attendance and collective worship. This suggests that religion is no longer influential enough to reinforce the collective conscience. • In a modern multi-faith, the bonding function is performed by civil religion. It resembles a religion in as much as it uses religion images and phrases to promote and reinforce national identity. Americanism therefore promotes social solidarity, bringing together all the disparate strands of society. Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  25. 25. Homework • Identify and explain 3 ways in which religion is said to be functional for society (9) • Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the functionalist view that religion benefits both society as a whole and its individual members. (18 marks) Charlotte Russell Bilton School
  26. 26. Essay guidance • 6 A01 marks 12 A02 marks • You need to explain why and how functionalists see religion as beneficial both to society and to individuals. • Link your explanation to key features of functionalist perspective on society such as its emphasis on consensus. • You should therefore consider the range of social and psychological functions they see religion performing, such as integration and solidarity, cognitive functions, cooping with stress and uncertainty, offering answers to ultimate questions etc. • Use the item to help you develop some of these, and use other sources too (e.g. Malinowski, Bellah). • Use Marxist and feminist views to question whether religion is beneficial for all members of society or only the ruling class or men. Consider cases where religion causes division rather than integration. Charlotte Russell Bilton School

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