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May 1, 2018 / C H Thompson

Functional definitions

  • Functional definitions define religion in terms of the social or psychological functions that it performs for society.
  • For example, Durkheim defines religion in terms of the contribution that religion provides for society, such as for the social integration of society.
  • Yinger (also a functionalist) identifies the function that religion performs for individuals such as answering ‘ultimate questions’ about the meaning of life and what happens when we die.
  • This definition is inclusive, meaning that it allows us to include a wide range of beliefs and practices that perform functions such as integration.
  • In addition, since they don’t believe specifically in God or the supernatural, this means that there is no bias against non-Westernised religions


  • However, just because an institution helps to integrate people into groups, this doesn’t make a religion.

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