The institution of religion can be evaluated by varies sociological theories because the institution of religion has been part of every society since the beginning of humanity. With society it possible to find some sort of religion. Among these theories functionalism, conflict and interactions will be use to assess the impact each theory has on the religion institution. “Sociologist tends to be interested in the social impact of religion on individuals and the institution.” (Schaefer, 2009, p.323) They are not attempting to authenticate to the truth of the religion institutions merely probing how institution such as religions influences on individuals in society. Religion has been part of society foundation since the beginning of human existence. It has been the central part of other institution as well and have had a profound impact on the choices taken by other institutions. It is clear that Religion influence has extended widely through society.
When looking at religion, one might attempt to discover how religion contribute to the stability of a societies Emile Durkheim, “recognized the importance of religion in human societies.” (Schaefer, 2009, p.323)
He believed that religion brought about stability in society. Durkheim believed religion to be an influential force in society. Durkheim sought to answer a puzzling question, “How can human societies be held together when they are usually composed of individuals and social groups with diverse interests and aspirations.” (Schaefer, 2009, p. 327) Durkheim believe this was possible through what is called the “societal glue,” that is religion is source to keep society together and meaning and purpose in people in life. (p.327)
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In a functionalist point of view, the institution religion gives humanity a moral compass and a place to belong and reinforces social norms. Places of worship have become more than worship site it is also a place to socialize or fellowship. Furthermore, religion give different groups a certain sense of connection to others they might be of different faith they still find themselves bound to others who have a similar belief system. Institutions such as education and families are essential in relaying morals as the social norm, but religion may well be the institution that holds all of those to a higher standard.
Religion provides support during some of life struggle and changes by applying morals in the early in a child life. Changes can be overwhelming, however with a strong religious tradition one can find meaning and direction in all of life’s tough times.
In the process of talking about religion, the focus is mainly on the positive aspects however, one can also find negative aspects in religion institution as well. Religions from the beginning of society have been the reason behind many conflicts in the world. Even today, in society conflict occur due to religion. For example in the United States, religion is used as a weapon by social conservatives. They use religion to push their social agenda such as the issue of abortion, same sex marriage, and stem cell research. Likewise, liberals tend to blame religion for a lack of freedom in make the afore mention choices. Religion has also been the source of conflicts between different types of faith such as Christian and Muslims. While in other countries, the dysfunction of religion has made citizens turn on their fellow citizens. For example, in Iraqi the Sunnis and the Shiites have fought civil wars because of different type of the same religion. In Europe, the Protestants and catholic have battled for years over different ideology.
“The conflict theorist believes that religion is a potential obstacle to a structural social change but also can be a source for cultural change through liberation theology” (Schaefer, 2009, p.330) Dysfunction of religion is common ground for the functionalist and conflict theorists. The dysfunction of religion proves many theories within the conflict theory itself. Conflict theorist would say that religion provides tension between different groups, and societies. However, Functionalist and Conflict theorists see religion as possible source of social structure.
The conflict perspective can be defined “as a sociological approach that assumes that social behavior is best understood on terms of tension between groups over power, or the allocation of resources, including housing, money, access to services, and political representation” (Schaefer, 2009, p. 14-15). Furthermore, “Conflict theorists examine the relationship of religion to social inequalities, especially how religion reinforces a society’s stratification system.” (Schaefer, 2009, p. 329)
Karl Marx stated, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world it is the opium of the people.” He believed religion is a source of controlling working class, to convince them to accept their place in life. He states that Religion institutions are not exactly a positive force. Marx said that “religion gives people the illusory hope that things will get better in the next life and prevents them from seeking a political answer in this”( Marx, K. & Engels, F. 1843)It is also believed, “Religion legitimizes, reinforces and perpetuates the rule of the ruling class and their interests.” (Marx, K. & Engels, F., 1843) Conflict theorists consider religion an instrument to hold the working class in a state disregard to their social standing.
The conflict theories hold that religion gives the society a false sense of hope, and cause them to be satisfied with their current state. Religion is often used as an instrument for the upper class, to subdue the lower class. Some religious organization such the catholic churches would have the layperson believe it better to be poor because it easier to enter heaven. The bible portrays the difficulty of a wealthy person giving up their wealth to follow Jesus Christ. This tends to make the lower class think it okay to be poor because they will have less to lose for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Religion therefore hindered change in society by promoting obedience to domination; by take people’s attention away the injustices in society. Furthermore, it is use to justify imbalance of power available to only a select group by stressing rewards to come. Although people commonly assume that Karl Marx did not think religion had a place in society, that assumption is not entirely accurate. He believed that religion acted as a place of refuge from the difficulties of life and oppression. However, Marx thought that traditional religion would eventually fade.
The final sociological perspective of religion institution to be analyzed is the Interactionist perspective; this theory “a generalize posture about every day forms of social interaction, in order to explain society as a whole.”(Schaefer, 2009, p.16) The Interactionist perspective studies are in contrast to conflict and functionalist perspective society because they evaluate social behavior on a micro sociological level. Interactionists’ theory focusing on the micro-sociology of a society in order to understand macro-sociology.
Therefore Interactionist tend to examine the simply aspects of society, for instance, they study the interaction of people within specific institutions such as religion. These interaction can be observed in ones belief systems, and how such systems help society understand the things we experience in our everyday lives. “Interactionism was first developed in the United States.
George Herbert Mead is widely regarded as the founder the interactionist perspective often credited with founding the Interactionist perspective.” Mead taught at the University of Chicago, and he pay attention to individualizes setting and small intimate groups. Mead’s teaching has led other moved away from macro social behavior to the micro level. He would concentrate on body language such as a facial expression, and how it effected other in the group mood. (Schaefer, 2009, p.17).
Interactionists say that “social change occurs when the positions and communication with one another change. The main idea of an Interactionist sociologist is to study nonverbal communication and small groups paying particular attentions to objects and symbols .”(Schaefer, 2009, p.16)
Within this theory, it has been stated “religion is seen as a reference group, for many people, religion serves as a reference group to help them define themselves.
This is where the functionalist and Interactionist theory find common ground; both perspectives see religion as a positive force, which provide a stabilizing factor within a society. Both also agree that religion can enrich an individual’s life and enhances an individuals’ ability to deal with some of the difficulties in life. Regardless it is clear through the research of both perspectives that religion brings people within society, together; therefore adding a harmonizing and supportive structure with the society and or culture.
An example of this is the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. “The U.S. civil rights movement is perhaps the best example of a social movement drawing on religious resources to accomplish its goals. Both religious leaders and laity were active in the civil rights movement.
Congregations provided material resources necessary for large-scale political action, acted as conduits for frame dissemination and provided an ideal setting for the micro mobilization process to occur.” (Loveland, M. T., Walls, E. N., Myers, D. J. and Sikkink, D., 2003).
Another example of religion’s affect on social movements can be found in the debate over abortion. The issue of abortion has strong ties to the institution of religion within the United States. Almost every religious faction found in the U.S. has strong beliefs on whether abortion is immoral or not.
“Another notable sociologist Max Weber saw religion as a primary source of social change. He analyzed how Protestantism gave rise to the Protestant ethic, which stimulated what he called the spirit of capitalism. The result was capitalism, which transformed society.” (Henslin J. ch. 13)
In closing, one can clearly see the differences in the three sociological perspectives in regards to religion. While the three sociological perspectives have differing views on the institution of religion, they also see religion as a force within society that can motivate and facilitate social change and movement within a society. The institution of religion has a profound affect on the society, in which it dwells, adding both positive and possibly negative attributes that add to the stability of that society. However, a society that uses religion as a cornerstone, will ultimately find that it provides a settling sense over that society. In addition, religion will assist in the establishment and maintenance of the social norms and expectation within that culture.
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