Religious: Sociology and Religion

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Religious Social Institution
SOC 101
26 November 2012

Religious social institutions consist of groups of individuals who share common views about the nature of God and the creation of the universe, which incorporates their beliefs, writings, behaviors, and rituals. They are led by their own faith or personal belief rather than science. Social, economic, political, and spiritual beliefs are all influenced if not dominated by religion. Christianity, Islamic, Judaism, Hinduism, and Roman Catholic’s all bring people together for some form of social interactions with one another, whether it be in a worship service, belief or ritual, or any other religious act that may require interaction. This paper will discuss the impact that the three sociological theories, the functionalism, conflict, and interactionism theories have on the religious institution along with the similarities and differences of these theories in respect to society’s view of religion.

People have very different ways of viewing religion, which creates conflict throughout the world. The differences in beliefs and ideologies vary from person to person within any given society. The functionalists believe that religion “is essential for all societies because it helps unite people in a shared belief and behavior system, resulting in social cohesion.” (Vissing, 2011, sec. 4.6) Religion gives people answers, explains the unexplainable, and a purpose for life. Religious teaching and scripture encourage certain behaviors and help discourage others which regulate social and individual behavior. Interactionism impacts religion because most cultures and religions create a totem, or object that symbolizes ones religion. An example of a totem for Christians would be the cross. Human interaction is an essential part of most religious services, and that interaction serves as a way for humans to establish communication in religious matters through what is called fellowship. Conflict theory impacts religion because of the vast religious differences throughout the world, that causes conflict and tension between society and religions, both internally and externally. Conflict theorists believed that religious organizations promote inequality and injustice by making some faiths or religions superior to others. “Karl Marx (Bottomore, 1964} believed that religion was "the opiate of the people" and that belief kept them complacent and unwilling to challenge the status quo.” All three of these theories have a significant impact in the function of religion within society. (Vissing, 2011).

Every religion is different in its ideology, beliefs, congregations, and social aspects. However, the first similarity that I found was between functionalism and interactionism. The similarity between the two is that each interaction found within a religious setting has a specific function. Each religious institution has a specific function which plays a part in the social system. This is one similarity between functionalism and interactionism. Interactionism focuses primarily on the interactions themselves and not the sole purpose of the actions. In contrast, functionalism is different because it believes that the sociological function of the actions and rituals are more important than the impact of the interactions within a religion. The functionalists believe that religion “is essential for all societies because it helps unite people in a shared belief and behavior system, resulting in social cohesion.” (Vissing, 2011, sec. 4.6) Functionalism and interactionism may share some similarities however they are still different.

Like all other social institutions, religious institutions have become very large with more specialize organizations and subgroups. They have developed complex organizational structures and operating procedures in order for them to function more effectively. Every ritual, rite, tithe, or service carried...
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