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Assess Functionalist And Marxist Theories On The Role Of Religion In Society. Sociology Essay

900 words - 4 pages

Functionalist sociologists define religion in terms of the social and psychological effects it has on individuals in society. Emile Durkheim defines religion in terms of the contribution it makes to social integration, rather than a belief in any God or the supernatural. Milton Younger identifies the functions that religion performs for individuals, such as answering ultimate questions about the meaning of life and what happens once we die. However, Marxist sociologists view the function of religion in society in quite the opposite way. They argue that in a society filled with class conflict, the bourgeoisie use religion in order to control the proletariat. Marx says that this is done by enforcing a religious ideology.
Functionalist sociologist Emile Durkheim argues that the key feature of religion is not the belief in any specific God or the supernatural, but a fundamental distinction between the sacred and the profane. The sacred are things set apart from the ordinary, they inspire feelings of awe, fear and wonder. In contrast, the profane are things that have no special significance; they are ordinary and mundane. Additionally, Durkheim says that a religion is not simply a set of beliefs, it involves a set of collective rituals and practices in relation to the sacred. Durkheim says that the sacred things that religious people are worshipping resemble society itself and so therefore they are worshipping society and this is the essential function in uniting believers into a single moral community.
Furthermore, Durkheim says that the sacred symbols represent society's collective conscience, which is the shared norms, values, beliefs and knowledge that make social life and cooperation between individuals in society possible. For Durkheim, the regular religious rituals reinforce and maintain social integration. Durkheim also talks about the role religion plays for the individual; it makes individuals feel they are apart of something bigger than themselves and answers ultimate questions about life.
Functionalist sociologist Talcott Parsons sees religion as helping individuals to cope with unforeseen events and uncontrollable outcomes. In addition to this, Parsons also identifies that religion creates and legitimates societies central values and it is also the primary source of meaning.
Functionalism provides a positive perspective on religion; it focuses only on the good it does in society and neglects the negative aspects, such as religions being a source of oppression for the poor and the women. Also it ignores that religion is a source of division and conflict in complex modern societies.
Marxist sociologist Karl Marx discusses the concept of ruling class ideology. He says that ideology is a belief system that distorts peoples perception of...


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