Functional theories explaining the evolution of primitive religion were propounded by Malinowski and Radcliffe- Brown.Malinowski cites the example of Trobriand Islanders whose religion is associated with various emotional states of tension.
The magical and religious practices of the islanders surround fishing expeditions. The emotional states of tension experienced by the islanders are born out of fear of disasters overtaking them while on fishing expeditions. Various institutions in the lives of the people give rise to tensions based on anger,hate and greed.These states leading to tension continue for long,frustration set in,work suffers and zest for life goes down. An emotionally upset state of life is not conducive to bring out the best in an individual.Religion helps to get rid of stress and strain paving way for attaining mental equipose and stability.
Radcliffe- Brown's stand on the function or religion is different from that of Malinowski.He considers that the function of religion is not to purge emotional stresses and strains from the mind but is to instil a sense of dependence of the mind on religion. The survival of the group is more important than that of an individual so the individual must be prepared to make certain sacrifices .The reason is individual survival is not possible without the survival of the society.Social survival warrants adherence to norm of behaviour.The individual adheres to the norm fearing punishment by supernatural powers if the norm is not followed.Besides the individual anticipates support from the society because of adherence to the norm. Thus religion enforces dependence on society to ensure social survival.
Durkheim's theory on religion partly provided the basis for the views of Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown.According to Durkheim when people gather for festivals and to celebrate social events mutual discussions between the members give birth to religious notions.Religion is broadly divided by Durkheim into beliefs which constitute theology and rites.While beliefs are static rites are dynamic.Belief in Gods and Deities is put into practice by the performance of rites.Profance beliefs fall into the realm of magic and sorcery and do not belong to religion