Functionalist And Marxist Perspective On Religion

Also known as the social conflict approach, critique of capitalism. According to Marx, in a capitalist society, religion plays a critical role in maintaining an unequal society, in which certain groups of people have more resources and power than other groups of people. For Marx, Ideology is a belief system that changes people’s perception of reality in ways that serves the interest of the ruling class. He argues that the class that control economic production also controls the production and distribution of ideas in society, through institutions such as churches, education system etc.

In Marx’s view religion operates as an ideological weapon used by the ruling class to justify the suffering of the poor as something inevitable and God-given.

The Marxist perspective, persist that religion operate as a drug to dull the pain of exploitation, because religion is a distorted view of the world, it can offer no solution to earthly misery. Instead, it promises rewards in the afterlife that creates an illusion of happiness which distracts attention from the true source of suffering, namely capitalism.

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Marx argued that the ruling class used religion as a tool to keep the less powerful proletariat pacified.

He argued that religion was able to do this by promising rewards in the afterlife, instead of in this life. Marx was calling for the proletariat to discard religion and its deceit about other worldly events, only then would this class of people be able to rise up against the ruling class and gain control of the means of production and only then would they achieve real rewards.

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Here we can see the social-conflict approach to religious highlights how religion, as a phenomenon of human behaviour functions to maintain social inequality by providing a worldview that justifies oppression. Because Marx was committed to criticizing the prevailing organization of society during his time, he took a particular stance towards religion. He believed that this was a tool of social control used to maintain an unequal society and that it should be abolished.

Functionalist perspective on religion (Emile Durkheim)
Durkheim outline that all religion share three elements:
1. Beliefs are held by a follower.
2. Practices and Rituals.
3. Moral community.
The functionalist perspective states that religion is universal, there are functions that it fulfils for society. It satisfies individual needs and religion give people a sense of identity. These functions are:

1. It provide social unity to help maintain social solidarity through shared rituals and believes. 2. Social control to enforce religious-based morals and norms to help maintain conformity and control in society. 3. Religion offers meaning and purpose to answer question of existence. Durkheim argued that religion acted as a source of solidarity and identification for the individuals within a society. Religion provided a meaning for life, it provided authority figures, and most importantly for Durkheim, it reinforced the morals and social norms held collectively by all within a society. Functionalist saw it as a critical part of the social system, as it provides social control, cohesion, and purpose for people, as well as another means of communication and gathering for individuals to interact and reaffirm social norms. Secondly, Functionalist approach identifies certain elements of religious beliefs that are common across different cultures.

A belief in a supernatural realm is not necessary or common among religions, but the separation of different aspects of life, physical things, and certain behaviors into two categories: 1. Sacred - Objects and behaviors that are considered part of the spiritual or religious world. Knowable through extraordinary experiences. 2. Profane - Everything else in the world that do not have a religious function or hold religious meaning. Knowable through normal empirical observation. Functionalists believe that religion is an agency of socialization, and the role of socialization religion plays is that of cultural learning.

It believes that society represents an external limitation as norms and values regulate and limit our behaviour. Both Marxism and Functionalism theories take the macro world view and that elements of human culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger structure. It studies the frameworks of society and how society shaped our behaviour. Marx’s theory of religion needs to be seen in the context of his general view of society, capitalism dominates the working class. Whereas functionalism sees religion as a unifying force and a feature all societies. Marxism sees religion as a feature only of class – divided society.

Updated: Jul 07, 2022
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Functionalist And Marxist Perspective On Religion. (2016, Sep 14). Retrieved from

Functionalist And Marxist Perspective On Religion essay
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