Conclusion: Irreligion and the Functionalist Perspective in the Sociology of Religion

  • Colin Campbell
Part of the New Perspectives in Sociology book series


Although there is no one functional theory of religion, there is a dominant tradition in social anthropology and sociology which emphasises the consequences, as opposed to the purposes, of religious beliefs, practices and organisations for the maintenance and continued existence of societies, groups or individuals. The dominant emphasis in this tradition has been upon the positive function which religion performs in the integration of societies, but a variety of other functions have been postulated. O’Dea, in reviewing these functions, summarises the role ascribed to religion in functional theory as one which

identifies the individual with his group, supports him in uncertainty, consoles him in disappointment, attaches him to society’s goals, enhances his morale, and provides him with elements of identity. It acts to reinforce the unity and stability of society by supporting social control, enhancing established values and goals, and providing the means for overcoming guilt and alienation. It may also perform a prophetic role and prove itself an unsettling or even subversive influence in any particular society.1


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    Glock and Stark seem to overlook the many examples of determinate statements arising from religious perspectives which have been. dis-confirmed. The forecasts of the Second Advent are an obvious case in point. It is surely debatable whether predictions deriving from ‘humanist perspectives’ have, in fact, been ’more fragile’ than those deriving from religious perspectives. Festinger’s study of unfulfilled prophecy is surely pertinent here (Leon Festinger et al. ‘When Prophecy Fails’ (Univ. of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1956)). This is not to say that, in principle, religious perspectives may not have a greater potentiality for avoiding such fragility. But this potentiality is acquired at the loss of the possibility of confirmation.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Colin Campbell 1971

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  • Colin Campbell

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