Durkheim's theory of religion is an example of how functionalists investigate sociological phenomena. People, according to Durkheim, perceive religion as contributing to the health and survival of society in general. Thus, religion serves to bond society's members by regularly encouraging them to confirm their shared values and beliefs. Religion also provides an outlet for members to release some of their emotional tension caused by their daily struggles for survival.
In addition to explaining why people believe what they do, functionalists also attempt to explain why certain ideas or practices have become popular within a given society. Durkheim proposed that like any other social phenomenon, religions arise due to the needs of individuals and groups within society. As discussed above, he believed that people seek out ways to bind themselves together with others so that they can more easily compete for resources. In his view, this explanation not only helps to account for the origin of religion, but it also allows him to comment on various aspects of religious behavior. For example, by noting that many people participate in rituals to show respect for their gods, Durkheim was able to make some observations about modern societies where such activities seem inappropriate to most people.
Like many other functionalists, Durkheim did not consider all forms of religion to be equal. Instead, he divided religions into two broad categories: collective and individual. Collective religions include those that are practiced by a group because they share common values and beliefs.
The Purposes of Religion The functionalist viewpoint, which stems from Emile Durkheim's work on religion, emphasizes religion's social purpose. According to this view, religion provides an outlet for human emotions and feelings that might otherwise be expressed in violence or anger. By giving rise to moral values and teaching people how to live together in peace, religion helps make society function more smoothly and avoid its members' going over to the side of the warrior or the saint.
Functionalists believe that every religious tradition has a goal that is either spiritual or temporal. For example, they say that religion has a spiritual purpose because it offers means by which humans can reach communion with God. They say that religion has a temporal purpose because it helps people deal with life's challenges in the here and now. Examples of functions of spirituality include providing hope and comfort in times of need and giving meaning to one's life. Examples of functions of temporariness include preventing people from doing evil and acting upon good impulses by punishing them so that they do not repeat their actions, and using ritual to connect people with each other and give voice to their needs and desires.
Religion is a source of strength and support for individuals who are facing up to problems in their lives or in society at large.
According to Durkheim, the essential purpose of religion is legitimation. Religion fosters a sense of community. According to Durkheim, religion is the glue that ties society together. He believed that without religion, society would disintegrate into chaos and violence.
Tönnis was one of the first scholars to propose an integration theory of society. He argued that there is a constant interaction between religion and law that helps maintain social order. Tönnis believed that religion and law are not separate from each other, but rather they work in tandem to keep society functioning smoothly.
Lukes views society as having three distinct but interrelated "levels": individual, group, and societal. He argues that it is only through our involvement in different groups within society that we are able to achieve success at the individual level. Lukes claims that without this group bonding, we would all be reduced to nothing more than collections of isolated individuals.
Finally, Stark views society as having four components: government, industry, education, and religion. He argues that it is through our involvement with these components that we are able to achieve success at the societal level. Stark believes that it is through our involvement with government that we are able to achieve success at the group level.
Religion cannot be understood in isolation from the capitalist society that perpetuates inequity. Regardless of their differing perspectives, these social theorists all believed in the importance of religion in society. Religion, according to functionalists, satisfies several key human needs, such as community cohesiveness and friendship. Religion also provides individuals with meaning and purpose in life and can act as a source of empowerment by giving people hope for a better future.
Durkheim's theory was based on three principles: (1) Organized religious institutions are important factors in producing and maintaining societal solidarity and harmony. (2) The individual has a need for sacred values that give life meaning and purpose, and religions provide these values. (3) Modern societies have eroded traditional institutions that provided moral guidance to citizens, so people turn to religious authorities for answers on how to live life correctly. As a result, governments need to be neutral toward religion or risk losing support from the public.
Tönnies' theory is based on two categories of people in society: "Upper classes" who have access to power within the political system; and "Lower classes" who do not. According to Tönnies, it is the role of upper classes to establish and maintain standards of behavior for lower classes by means of law and punishment. Upper classes can achieve this goal through government agencies such as police forces and courts. Lower classes can receive punishments from upper classes by being excluded from their communities or even imprisoned.