Christopher J. Reed
March 14, 2011
Sociological Theories Perspectives on Religion
When it comes to the social institution of religion, the three major sociological theories differ in a majority of ways. All three have their own way of how they perceive religion functions in society. The purpose of this paper is to show the impact each theory has had on religion as well as the people inside the institution itself.
Religion has been around for many hundreds of years and has had a great influence on many things in societies over time and across the world, such as politics, economics, and has even led to many wars. But how would one come about with a definition of the word religion?
There are many different definitions out there of religion that are basic and even some definitions that get more complex. One basic and easy way to describe religion is a person or group of peoples set beliefs and practices on the concept of spirituality. J. Milton Yinger takes one of the more complex approaches to defining religion. He calls it “a system of beliefs and practices by which a group of people struggle with the ultimate problems of human life – problems relating to human morality, suffering, and injustice; and the need to infuse human life with meaning, and intellectual coherence, and the crucial importance of upholding moral percepts and patterns of social life” (Bouma p.4). Although both definitions seem to be drastically different, they actually do compliment each other and when used together can give us a much better understanding of religion and what it represents to the different cultures of people. Sociological theorists have debated with each other over the way that religion functions and serves a society.
The functionalist theory is defined as a sociological theory that focuses on the way in which the many parts of society are designed to maintain social stability. When it comes to religion, through this perspective one can attempt to show how religion adds to the social stability of a culture. Emile Durkheim, who is considered the founder of the functionalist theory, stated religion as a positive action brought about by society in order to gain some social stability. When added to the institution of religion, this statement would show how religion adds to the overall stability of a society. The stabilizing affect of religion is possible through certain functions which contribute to the social system of a society. One of Durkheim’s main focuses was that he sought to find an answer to the question, “How can human societies be held together when they are generally composed of individuals and social groups with diverse interests and aspirations” (Schaefer, p.327). Through his extensive research on the subject, he came to the conclusion that religion was able to join different social classes and races within a society.
“Durkheim believed that the key function of religion is to strengthen social solidarity, that attending communal worship strengthens the bonds between society’s members. He asserted that the rules of religion reflected the values of society, going as far as to claim that worship of God was in fact the disguised worship of society. Aside from this insult to the faithful, religion is therefore an essentially positive force within society” (Stevens par. 3). Understanding Durkheim’s thoughts, a person can see that religion is an important aspect of society. Still, there is the question that is out there, how does religion provide stability within a society, what roles does it fill in a particular culture, and what makes it so binding?
Religion allows members of a society to have a sense of belonging, and it reinforces moral decisions and societal norms. Social events such as weddings and funerals are tied to a person’s particular religion, and these events are attended by others with the same religious beliefs. It also gives...