Using Material From Item A And Elsewhere Essay

Submitted By Hanjamash
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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)

Functionalists take a macro view of society, and generalise. They believe society's most basic need is social order and solidarity, so its members can cooperate. They also believe that religion is a positive function for society, and ignore it as a source of conflict.

As Item A states, the functionalist approach focuses on religion's contribution to social integration and promotes a feeling of belonging amongst society's members. Durkheim distinguishes between the sacred (things that inspire awe) and the profane (things simply ordinary), claiming that society is sacred, and individuals perform rituals towards sacred totems, promoting solidarity. Durkheim calls this theory totemism; individuals are actually worshipping society itself without their own knowledge. He also states that religion benefits society through collective conscience, where every member shares the same norms and values, which are sacralised. Individuals are then binded together by these shared norms, by reminding them they are part of a single moral community.
However, Durkheim also believes religion can be beneficial for the individual too. He argues that sacred rituals help promote powerful feelings in the believer, making them feel a part of something. He states that religion has cognitive functions, and is our ability to reason and think conceptually. Religion provides categories for our knowledge, such as time and space, and then allows us to share these same categories with other people.

Malinowski, an anthropologist, agrees with Durkheim that religion promotes social solidatiry. He believes it does so by performing psychological functions, that help individuals cope when solidarity would be under threat. To benefit society, rituals are performed when the outcome is uncertain. He studied the Trobriand Islanders, who performed a ritual before going out into the ocean to go fishing. By doing this, their society was brought together with the same aim. Malinowski also states that society benefits from religion at times of life crisies, for example the rituals of funerals. He says this brings members of society together, where they share their grief.
Like Durkheim, Malinowski also believes religion can benefit individuals too. He says it helps them to cope with emotional stress, by filling in gaps that are beyond human control, when they perform rituals. It provides them with comfort when they are both uncertain of outcomes, or when they are grieving. Malinowski believes death is the main reason for the existence of religious belief.

Civil religion was a belief system proposed by functionalist Bellah, who believed a multi-faith society such as America was unified by attaching sacred qualities to society itself. It promotes a patriotic feeling in society's members, and they all become integrated in a way a single religion cannot. Various rituals such as pledging allegiance to the flag or singing the national anthem bind together Americans from a range of ethnicities to all worship the same 'religion'.
As for the individual, religion can provide answers to ultimate questions, when people are unaware of why good people suffer. By answering these questions, religion prevents society from being undermined if life appears…