Assess the Usefulness of Functionalist Theories in Understanding Religion Today

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Functionalists believe religion is a conservative force as it promotes social harmony, social integration and social solidarity through value consensus. It is a functional prerequisite that meets the needs of society and its individual members to ensure survival of society itself. This maintains the status quo, which then reaches social stability. The Functionalist Durkheim says that religion provides beliefs and practices that unite people and bind society together creating social solidarity. Durkheim also argued that ritual and ceremony are essential to bind society together. He points out that most religions have ceremonies especially at critical life stages. For example, christenings, marriages and funerals. Ceremonies take people away from the profane part of their life into the world of the sacred where they can feel in touch with higher forces. This creates unity within the social group, which then generates a ‘collective conscience.’ Durkheim drew on secondary research of religious beliefs and practices in the Australian Arunta tribe of aborigines. He studied the practice of Totemism. Totemism is where something or somewhere has a particular symbolic significance for a social group. It is a sacred object venerated by the group and surrounded by ritual. For example Churingas are sacred drawings on wood or stone. Durkheim argued that Totemism represents religion in its most elementary form. The totem has divine properties which separates it from other profane objects. It is a symbol for the group, tribe or clan itself as it stands up for the values central to the community which everyone respects. Therefore worship of the totem is the worship of the social group itself. Such collective worship, ceremonies and rituals act as social glue, binding people together in shared moral values and creating social cohesion. People acquire a social identity,
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