Religious: Sociology and Religion

Table of Content

Religious social institutions are composed of individuals who hold similar perspectives on God and the creation of the universe. They share beliefs, writings, behaviors, and rituals. These institutions are guided by faith or personal belief rather than scientific principles. Religion greatly influences social, economic, political, and spiritual beliefs. Worship services, beliefs, rituals, and other religious activities that involve interaction promote social interactions among followers of Christianity, Islam,Judaism,Hinduism,and Roman Catholicism.

In this paper, we will analyze how three sociological theories – functionalism, conflict, and interactionism – impact the religious institution. We will also investigate the similarities and differences between these theories regarding society’s viewpoint on religion. The diverse perspectives on religion among individuals result in global conflicts due to disparities in beliefs and ideologies within a society.

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The functionalists argue that religion is crucial for societies as it brings people together through shared beliefs and behavior, thereby promoting social cohesion (Vissing, 2011, sec. 4. 6). Religion offers explanations for the inexplicable and provides a sense of purpose in life. Additionally, religious teachings and scriptures regulate individual and social behavior by promoting certain actions and discouraging others. The interactionism perspective influences religion as many cultures and religions develop a totem or symbolic object representing their religious beliefs.

An example of a totem for Christians could be the cross. Human interaction plays a crucial role in most religious services, serving as a means for individuals to establish communication in religious matters through fellowship. Conflict theory has an impact on religion due to the vast religious differences worldwide, resulting in conflict and tension between society and religions, both internally and externally. Conflict theorists argue that religious organizations contribute to inequality and injustice by promoting certain faiths or religions as superior to others. According to Karl Marx (Bottomore, 1964), religion is “the opiate of the people” that keeps them complacent and unwilling to challenge the existing social order. Each of these theories significantly affects the role of religion in society (Vissing, 2011). While every religion differs in ideology, beliefs, congregations, and social aspects, a similarity I found between functionalism and interactionism is that each interaction within a religious setting serves a specific function.

Both functionalism and interactionism recognize that each religious institution has a specific function within the social system. However, they differ in their focus and beliefs. Interactionism places importance on the interactions themselves, rather than solely on the purpose of actions. Conversely, functionalism believes that the sociological function of actions and rituals is more important than the impact of interactions within a religion.

Functionalists argue that religion is crucial for all societies as it helps create social cohesion through a shared belief and behavior system. On the other hand, interactionism recognizes that religious institutions, like other social institutions, have grown in complexity with specialized organizations and subgroups. They have developed intricate organizational structures and procedures to enhance their functioning.

Overall, functionalism and interactionism share some similarities but still possess distinct differences. Regardless, every individual, congregation, or religious group carries out rituals, rites, tithes, or services with specific functions within a religious institution.

Each specific function of a religious action or belief includes secondary functions that could be seen as additional aspects. For instance, a Christian worship service not only serves the primary function of praising God but also facilitates fellowship and interactions among the congregations of that religion (Vissing, 2011). According to the theory of interactionism, social interactions play a significant role in shaping identity, and religion offers its members distinct sets of identity.

In his article, Herbert Blumer discusses the effects of social interactions on religious worship services. Blumer points out that social behavior in these services is broad, complex, and natural, as it encompasses multiple social acts within human society (Blumer, 1980).

Religion influences one’s political, economic, social, religious, and academic beliefs. The theory of interactionism suggests that an individual’s identity is shaped through social interactions. In this context, religious beliefs or views contribute significantly to the formation of one’s identity as these interactions often take place within a religious framework.

White protestant Christians are commonly perceived as conservative, basing their political beliefs on moral and ethical teachings and the perspectives of their Church. Their religious organization fosters connections among Christians, shaping their distinct worldview through social interactions. The impact of conflict theory on religious organizations has remained significant throughout history, spanning over ten thousand years since the origins of religion.

The ongoing conflict between Islam and Christianity stems from clashes within their religious services and functions. When opposing views come together, social tensions and conflicts arise due to differing ideals. The numerous methods of resolving human conflict are passed down through generations, from parent to child and from one life experience to another.

Knowledge is progressively gained as humans enhance their capacity to interact at a minimal expense, according to Bartos and Wehr (2002). Since ancient times, religious fervor and warfare have been present. As a result, it is unsurprising that the conflict theory continues to display how social conflict affects religious institutions in contemporary times. These theories have various effects on individuals within a religious organization. Notably, functionalism greatly influences individuals within a religious institution.

Religion offers explanations for unexplainable aspects of individuals’ lives. One example is the Hindu concept of karma, which states that good actions will result in equally good outcomes, while bad actions will be met with negative consequences in this life or the next. The function of religious beliefs is to enhance individuals’ understanding of the inexplicable.

John Hannigan emphasizes the significance of religion in society, noting that since the inception of sociology, religious and social movements have been closely linked. However, sociologists of religion and experts in the study of social movements have often overlooked the shared foundations and instead focused on different issues and approaches. This highlights the importance of religion within the functionalism theory (Hannigan, 1991).

The conflict theory greatly impacts individuals’ perspectives within a religious organization. Many religions hold beliefs that are considered contradictory to science by some or many people. Followers of these religions usually integrate these beliefs into every aspect of their personal lives. Certain Protestant Christian denominations have strict guidelines for personal conduct, which may include the obligation to actively share or promote their views with others.

The beliefs of religious individuals often result in disagreements, conflicts, and tensions with members of other religions or those with differing beliefs. The Westboro Baptist Church is a notable instance of this phenomenon, as they became infamous for their controversial protests against American fallen soldiers. These demonstrations garnered considerable attention from society and the media. Although many believed that they had no authority to protest funerals, the Federal Court held a different opinion. This illustrates how conflict theory can shape a society’s viewpoint on a specific matter through the impact of religion.

The concept of conflict theory emphasizes social inequality and group conflict, including conflicts that may arise when discussing religion. It is crucial to exercise caution when attempting to minister to others to avoid potential conflicts. (Vissing, 2011) The theory of interactionism is significant in the context of religious organizations, as it influences the experiences and interactions of individuals. When individuals participate in religious activities, they engage with various people, perspectives, beliefs, and groups at different levels.

Interactionism influences the use of symbols and face to face interactions in religious institutions. Symbols have diverse meanings for individuals and shape their interactions with each other. For example, in Christianity, the cross represents Christ Jesus’s sacrificial death for salvation, leading many Christians to visit the place of crucifixion. Each religion has its unique symbols and meanings recognized within their respective groups, with interpretations varying based on one’s religious beliefs. Through different social methods and actions, religions can impact society by promoting social change within religious institutions.

According to sociological theories, religious beliefs influence individuals’ ability to adapt to societal changes. In the United States, there is a popular belief that traditional Protestant Christians are less adaptable to social shifts compared to atheists, who generally have more progressive and open-minded viewpoints. As a result, both individuals and religious institutions hold diverse perspectives on social change based on their religious beliefs.

Theories provide us with an understanding of the reasons behind the phenomena in our world. For Christians, religion serves as a means to comprehend the existence and to find a greater purpose. A world lacking both religion and theories would result in a state of uncertainty and presumptions. Typically, religious institutions do not endorse the merging of religion and theory, instead favoring one over the other, with religion being the predominant choice. As religion continues its global expansion, there will invariably be some form of response to societal transformation.

Both collaboration and conflict can arise in contemporary society due to the differing capacities of individuals and groups. Religion plays a significant role in influencing the thoughts and behaviors of both individuals and religious communities, providing solutions to unanswered questions, social connections, and shared spiritual convictions. If religion were absent, billions would be profoundly affected as this fundamental need would remain unmet.

Religion is a topic that evokes strong emotions and is of great significance to individuals, regardless of societal opinions. The theories of sociology have a significant influence on how institutions and individuals behave socially. Both interactionism and functionalism contribute to the understanding of religious ceremonies, rites, and activities. Each religion has its unique set of customs, beliefs, and traditions that can be categorized under both interactionism and functionalism.

The social aspect of religion, particularly in historical terms, includes an important component called conflict theory. Throughout history, conflicts among and within religions have been prevalent. Understanding the sociological effects that religion has on society requires analyzing the roles of these three theories. Each theory serves a distinct purpose and has a unique impact on religious institutions.

Every religion has communication, fellowship, or social interaction, so the sociological theories of functionalism, interactionism, and conflict all significantly impact religious institutions. Religion is part of society and will continue to be in the future. The impact and effects on society are uncertain, but it appears that religion and its sociological effects will continue evolving. This paper discusses how the functionalism, conflict, and interactionism theories affect religious institutions, as well as the similarities and differences in how society views religion.


The texts below offer references and information on various topics in the field of sociology:

Bartos, J., and Wehr, P. (2002). Using Conflict Theory. Social conflict. Social sciences.

Blumer, H. (1980). Mead and Blumer: The Convergent Methodological Perspectives of Social Behaviorism and Symbolic Interactionism. American Sociological Review, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 409-419.

Bottomore, T.B.(1964). Karl Marx, Selected writings in sociology and social philosophy.New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hannigan,J.(1991) .Social Movement Theoryand the Sociology of Religion:Toward a New Synthesis.Sociological analysis ,52(4).

Vissing,Y.(2011).Introduction to Sociology.San Diego ,CA : Bridgepoint Education ,Inc.

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Religious: Sociology and Religion. (2017, Feb 05). Retrieved from

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