Functionalists and Marxists both have very different views on the impact of religion on society. Functionalists believe that religion is intended for everyone and Marxists see it as religion was proposed for the ruling class and their own benefits. Some inclusive approaches to religion classify science as a form of religion. On the terms of faith being a belief, for example, the thoughts that the natural world is governed by physical laws of development.
A Functionalist called Durkheim who carried out his work in the 1890’s decided that he wanted to get to the inner core of what religion was, not just how the institutions played their part in it. He chose to study the Australian Aboriginals, who went out in the desert in separate clans all over the country, to survive. They each carried a totem pole carved with distinguishing patterns. They decided to meet up at specific times in the year, taking with them their own totem pole, which then identified which clan they belonged to.
This totem pole became sacred to each clan, it created unity. Durkheim saw religion as worshipping society, as the totem pole which they chose to worship was a representation of each other. By this, we can notice that Durkheim was an atheist himself. The functions that the Aboriginals created were ‘social solidarity’, harmony within the group and ‘collective consciousness’, a combined way of seeing the world.
Another Functionalist called Parsons believed that religion gave society ‘moral guidelines’. Religion enabled people to pass on these guidelines, for example, the 10 commandments.
Malinowski, an additional Functionalist, went to the Trobriand Islands to carry out his study. Many men go fishing for their occupation on these islands, and they often fish in a small lagoon where the waters are calm. However, if there aren’t many fish in this lagoon, then the men often venture out into the sea, which is usually very rough and dangerous for the men. The other people on the island often performed rituals and ceremonies to pray that the men were kept safe. Malinowski called this ‘Tension Management’, this means that people use religion to deal with tense and worrying times in their lives. For example, after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the number of people attending church increased.
A Functionalist named Radcliffe Brown believed that crucial points of life’s course celebrated by religious ceremonies create ‘social solidarity’. They can also be seen to re-affirm social relationships with your extended social glue. For example, at funerals, where you might come into contact with your extended family, they can provide a support network at the funeral.
In conclusion, Marxist views are very different. Marx said that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” For example, Gospel and Pentecostal churches give people and emotional high so that they don’t go against society, and instead they share their joy with others.