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May 1, 2018 / C H Thompson

Functionalism and religion

  • Functionalists see religion as a conservative force – religion prevents social change, stabilises society to retain status quo
  • because it functions to maintain social stability and prevent social change, this reinforces value consensus and strengthens social solidarity
  • According to Durkheim, religion reinforces the collective conscience, which is shared norms and values, which unites society. An example of where religion acts as a conservative force is the Catholic religion in Italy, which binds the community together and prevents social change
  • Durkhiem came up with the argument of totemism. Durkheim studied Australian aboriginal tribes and found that all of the societies held something sacred and something profane (non-religious)
  • Durkheim argued that totemism (which is the act of worshiping a sacred object) is created by society as it is a symbol of the group or society
  • When people are worshiping a society’s sacred symbol, they are really worshiping the societies in which they are part of
  • this acts as a social bond by bringing people together with shared beliefs, binding society together and therefore acts as a conservative force that promotes social cohesion


  • However, in contemporary society, there are now many varied religions, which is known as religious pluralism
  • this makes it hard to see how religion can provide a collective conscience in modern day society, as there are a wide variety of different faiths
  • Durkheims argument therefore may be criticised as being outdated



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