Religion and Social Stability

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Assess the view that the main function of religious belief is to promote social stability (33 marks).

One way that religious belief promotes social stability can be through Durkheim’s idea of totemism and what is considered sacred and profane in society. Durkheim made a significant distinction between what is sacred and profane in society; sacred referred to the things in society that inspired feelings of awe and fear, whereas profane referred to the things in society that held no special meaning. For Durkheim, the sacred things in society elicited such powerful emotions from individuals, he noted that they often became symbols of great power. Thus, as individuals worship society, for Durkheim the sacred symbols became a part of their religious rituals, which in turn helped to promote the societies collective conscious as they were all worshipping the symbol together. Durkheim applied his ideas to the Arunta Tribe who performed rituals involving the worship of a sacred totem which was seen as the clans emblem. In Durkheim’s view, as the totem was seen as the clans emblem, they were, in fact, worshipping their society and reinforcing the collective conscious that came with it. This is important in terms of social stability as if a society does not have a strong collective conscious then the social life and cooperation within the society will be impossible. Religion, therefore, does not only perform a wider function on society by reinforcing social solidarity and the collective conscious, it also helps the individual to feel a sense of belonging which, in turn, makes them feel a part of something. In criticism of this, however, Worsely argues that there is no sharp difference between what is sacred and profane, and that totemism, whilst correct in some cultures, may not apply to all religions across the world. In addition to this, Mestrovic would argue…...

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