Psychological and Functional Theories of Religion

Psychological and Functional Theories of Religion:

Psychological Theories of Religion:

Sigmund Freud in his book ‘Totem and Taboo’ accepted totemism as the earliest form of religion but deferred from Durkheim in explaining the theory of totemism. According to him, in prehistoric times people lived in hordes. Each horde contained men and women. The senior-most male monopolized the women. When other males came of age, he drove them out of the horde. What happened was that the brothers who were driven out of the horde joined forces and one day killed their father and ate him. After some time they repented for their action and took a view not to have sex with women in the horde. This gave rise to the incest taboo. At the same time, they raised a flag on which they painted the image of their father and started worshipping it. Thus arose totemism.

Functional Theories of Religion:

Malinowski has given a functional explanation of primitive religion. Malinowski points out, with reference to the Trobriand Islanders, that religion provides psychological benefits. He suggested that religion is universal because it is a response to anxieties and uncertainties that affect individuals personally and as a consequence, threaten to disrupt the social group. The principal disrupter is death itself. But through religion, “man affirms his convictions that death is not real nor yet final, that man is endowed with a personality which persists even after death….” In other words, religion has the function of bringing about a readjustment between man and the supernatural in upset states of existence. It is a device to secure mental and psychical stability in an individual’s life.

Radcliffe Brown proposed that the aim of religion is not only to free man from all kinds of fears and tension but to create a consciousness of depending upon supernatural powers. The existence of the group is much more important than that of the individual and hence he has to make sacrifices for the group. This sense of duty and sacrifice is created by religion. On the one hand, religion makes the individual dependent upon society, on the other hand, it teaches him to live according to social norms. Thus, religion helps in maintaining a social life.


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