Apparently I’m a “functionalist”. And by that, my professor meant that I hold to structural functionalism (yes, I am using Wikipedia as a source, it works for quick reference), a type of system where things in society all hold within a system that has to have each part in its place, functioning, or it falls apart. It is a “macro-analysis” of society, looking at things like organs, to the whole of society. My professor doesn’t think this a bad thing at all, he actually quite enjoys it, because I’m the only student in my “Capstone” class (this is what my university calls our degree class, our final paper class, that basically gives us our degree) who thinks this way. I was also the only student in my Research Methods class who thought this way too. So I know that I’m not like most people.
But, perhaps a good example is a better way to help illustrate how this all came up in class.
The focus of Capstone in European History (my focus), is, due to our professor, early modern Europe. So we were discussing pilgrimages in the late Middle Ages to Jerusalem, and how pilgrimages sharply dropped off in number in the early modern period in Europe. The rest of the class just was talking about how great it would have been to be part of the pilgrimages, to go on the journeys, to be a part of the journeys, or to be part of the society. I had to ask, “Why?” I mean, why go? After all, one was very likely to be mugged, robbed, murdered or just flat out die on the road there or back. So why go all the way to Jerusalem? I could potentially see going to one of the holy relic sites in Europe, closer to one’s home village, but why go all the way to Jerusalem from say France? I didn’t see why someone in say the early 16th Century wouldn’t just disappear from their village for 10 months or so, a year, whatever, and then reappear, and just say that they had gone all the way to Jerusalem. No one would really be able to tell that they hadn’t gone, so who would contradict them? Of course, everyone else just said that no one would dare do that. I just didn’t see why it wasn’t even an option. After all, functionally, they could easily do it, without any trouble. It’s not like it was impossible for anyone to lie about where they went once they left their village. I mean, travelers lied about where they went at times, or embellished their stories. So why wouldn’t pilgrims do the same thing?
My professor just thinks it amusing, because my mind is not like the rest of the kids. I really don’t think like the rest of the students that I know.
Constantly during classes I will be asking questions about “why”. Why things have to be a certain way. Or why no one questions things. Why an order exists. It’s just, I suppose, I’m always curious how things get organized and ordered, because I don’t understand how these kinds of orders/organizations get implemented. I never have. So I constantly want to know the why behind these kinds of things.
So yes, I want to know the structural function of everything. I want to know how it fits with everything around it. How it fits with the social constructs, how it fits society around it. I’m always curious how society fits together, the different parts organized in the ways they are. It’s all things I’m fascinated with. It’s partially why I always research, and why I constantly take history courses and ask all the questions I do. The functions are the interesting things I want to know, the things that in cases of religious situations, most students don’t think to ask. After all, in terms of Europe, the religious situations are Christian-based, so most people are basically familiar with a lot of it. So they don’t have to. I wasn’t raised Christian though, and so I don’t know a lot of these things, so I’m intensely curious and I have to ask the questions, because I don’t have the background raising in a church to even begin to understand what the function and purpose of church and religious traditions and actions are.
I had to laugh when my professor called me a functionalist. He’s right, though he really has no clue exactly how right he is. He had to tell me he meant no offense to me at all. It doesn’t offend me, not from what I understand of it. I mean, what is there to offend me, if I understand well that I am trying to understand the function of parts of the whole towards making the whole? I think then, there isn’t anything to offend me. I’ve learned that being told the truth isn’t really offensive in this case. It actually was kind of amusing to hear it, especially when it contrasts so wildly with the rest of my classmates.
Discussing actions in the early modern period/late Middle Ages, especially religious actions, from my point of view, and trying to put them functionally in their place, it just doesn’t quite mesh with my particular world view. Which, at least, with figuring out exactly how my mind is working, and with how the people in those times would have seen the world…now I can understand how they felt and acted. So I feel better able to understand their motivations and actions. That’s learning about the time, which is the point of my class. I got to learn about myself and people 500-600 years ago, that’s the best part of learning about myself.
So, I’m a functionalist. I’ll have to thank my professor for this knowledge sometime.∗