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Functionalist Theories of Religion

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By Willuigi
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Functionalist theories of religion

Understand functionalist theories and explain the role and function of religion, and how religion contributes to social stability.

Durkheim on religion:
He believes that it is a central institution for creating and maintaining value consensus and social solidarity.

The key feature was not the belief in God, but a fundamental distinction between the sacred and profane found in all religions.

The sacred and the profane

For Durkheim, the key feature was not a belief in gods, spirits or the supernatural, but a fundamental distinction between the sacred and the profane found in all religions. The sacred are things set apart and forbidden, that inspire feelings of awe, fear and wonder, and are surrounded by taboos and prohibitions.
By contrast, the profane are things that have no special significance-things that are ordinary and mundane.
Furthermore, a religion is never simply a set of beliefs.
It involves definite rituals or practices in relation to the sacred, and these rituals are collective-performed by social groups.

The fact that sacred things evoke such powerful feelings in believers indicated to Durkheim that this is because they are symbols representing something of great power.
In his view, this thing can only be society itself, since society is the only thing powerful enough to command such feelings.
When they worship the sacred symbols, therefore, people are worshipping society itself.
Although sacred symbols vary from religion to religion, they all perform the essential function of uniting believers into a single moral community.

The sacred

They inspire feelings of awe, fear and wonder.

Evoke strong feelings of respect.

Members will be distanced from and also drawn towards sacred things.

Will inspire intense devotion, function.

Encourage group solidarity, function.

The profane...

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