THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF POLITICAL FUNCTION OF RELIGION: Structural Functionalism

Structural Functionalism

In the structural-functional approach human societies are seen as self-contained systems that maintain themselves within a framework of necessity. Religion has been regarded as one such requirement (Nottingham, 1971: 57). When such assumptions and modes of analysis are applied to religion, two emphases predominate: ‘1-religion is part of the social structure, and as such can be expected to “fit” at least reasonably well with the other parts and elements of social, and 2 -religion by virtue of its presence in society performs certain functions for the society as a whole – that is, religion is beneficial in various ways to the society generally and to certain of its subparts in particular’ (Johnstone, Op.cit: 132).

In total, functional approach does not value-judge, and on the contrary, focuses on the objective role of religion. In Merton’s view, religion, like a part of society, can have positive or negative functions, and latent or manifest functions. In this text, as it will be explained, we regard to dysfunction (negative function) in respect to the religion in the politics and political science. But before that, here, with regard to what was said above, we review religion and its function in society and politics in total.

Function of Religion

As it was mentioned, in this article we are looking at the functional definition of religion, and we discuss the political function of religion among these functional aspects of religion. In a functional aspect, religion emerges ‘in both individual and collective human life’ (Karaman, 2004) that in socio-political discuss the collective aspect is important. Religion has psychological-social functions, so that Sigmund Freud mentioned the man’s need for ‘God’ (see: Lemert, 2004: 143). According to Peter Berger religion’s role is as a kind of ‘canopy’ (The Sacred Canopy), a social construction which projected a sacred cosmos and in so doing served to shelter individuals and society from a seemingly meaningless existence (Fokas, 2010).

According to the abovementioned views, however, religion has many individual and social functions in society. Many of them such as psychology-social functions, and influences have been investigated by researchers before. Here, I review the social functions that have relationship with my discussion that is about political function of religion. But before this, it is necessary to mention Nottingham’s three models of society.

For investigating the role of religion in society, Nottingham uses three models; model one is a type of society in which religious values predominate, model three a type of society in which secular values are in the ascendant, and model two a combination of religious and secular values. The functions of religion in model one are its roles in relation to the group and its members especially socialization process for the individual. It acts as a factor of cohesion, integrating and stabilizing in the society as a whole, and promotes conservatism and fighting against change (Nottingham, Op.cit: 32 – 34).

In model two societies, religion is not only a possible source of division and strife, but it also plays a creative and innovating role. It is understood as representing ethical values “higher” than the everyday standards of ordinary social life (Ibid: 39). In this model, like model one societies, the absence of highly developed scientific techniques, in one hand, leaves religion with an important function in helping to alleviate situations of stress, particularly those related to health and food supply. On the other hand, because of the stressful and disruptive nature of religious conflict, sociologists have emphasized the negative function of religion regarding such conflicts (Ibid: 67).

The functions of religion in model three societies are profoundly affected by the changing characteristic of religion. Religious divisions combined with the growth of secularism greatly weaken religion’s integrating function, and even its divisive power is somewhat blunted. Religious beliefs and practices, however, may serve an integrating function within the various organizations themselves. But values continue to contribute to the cohesion of the society. Evidence of this is the frequency, especially in times of stress, of public appeals to this common heritage of religious tradition. Presidents open their inaugurals with prayer, and in times of war or national danger the help of god is solemnly and publicly invoked (Ibid: 45).

In the modern world societies none of the abovementioned types could be found unmixed. But large part of many, if not most, of the “developing” countries of Asia and Africa today constitutes model two societies. In complex societies, moreover, the religion may play an innovative role in one part of the social structure and a conservative role in another. For instance, during the seventeenth century, according to Max Weber’s analysis, when certain Calvinistic protestant sects played an innovating role in the emergence of modern capitalism, some branches of the Roman Catholic Church showed a conservative reaction. So, religion may be viewed as performing at one and the same time both positive and negative functions (Ibid: 67- 68).