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Religious: Sociology and Religion

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    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 out by an individual, congregation, or religious group has a specific function.

    Each specific function also has secondary functions that could almost be considered another aspect of the religious action or belief. An example would be a Christian worship service. The worship service primary function is to praise God. Its secondary function is to facilitate fellowship and interactions between the congregations of that religion. (Vissing, 2011). The theory of interactionism states that identity is derived from social interactions just as religion provides sets of identity to its members.

    Religious worship services are some of the oldest and most prevalent forms of social interactions within society, so in researching the impact of interactionism in religion, the effects and similarities become readily apparent. In his article, “The Convergent Methodological Perspectives of Social Behaviorism and Symbolic Interactionism”, Herbert Blumer states this about the effects of social interactions “He saw that social behavior in its breadth, complexity, and natural character as it takes place in the multitude of social acts that make up the life of human society” (Blumer, 1980).

    Political, economic, social, religious and even academic beliefs are affected by one’s own religion, or at the very least the form of beliefs associated with a religion. Following the theory of interactionism, if one gets their identity from their social interactions, then as these interactions occur in a religious setting, it would follow that one’s identity would be comprised of at least part of the religious beliefs or views associated with that religion.

    An example would be the stereotype that white protestant Christians are usually very conservative and based their political views on moral and ethical teaching and the views from the Church. Christians establish connections through their Church and become to view the world differently, because of their social interactions from within their religious organization. The impact of the conflict theory among religious organizations is especially relevant today, as it has been for more than ten thousand years dating back to the very first inception of religion.

    The current conflict between the social views of Islam and Christianity is a battle that is being fought within the religious services and functions. When two or more opposing views meet, there will certainly be some tension and conflict, at least in terms of social views and ideals. “The ways of dealing with human conflict around the world are legion. They are passed down from parent to child, from generation to generation. They are transmitted from one life experience to the next.

    That knowledge is created with generations, as humans learn better how to interact with minimal cost. ” (Bartos, & Wehr, 2002). Religious passion and wars has been around from the beginning of time. It is no surprise that today conflict theory continues to show the impact of social conflict on religious institutions. All three of these theories have many effects on the individual within a religious institution. Functionalism plays a significant role in affecting individuals within a religious organization.

    Religion is able to provide answers to some of the things in lives of individuals that cannot be explained. For example, the Hindu belief of karma is simply that for every good action performed by an individual, an equally good action will happen to that individual; while a bad action will be rewarded with an equally bad reprisal against that individual in this life or the next. Religious beliefs serve as an important function of allowing individuals to better understand things that would not be understandable otherwise.

    According to John Hannigan, he states this about the importance of religion on society “since the founding of sociology in the nineteenth century, religious and social movements have occupied the same analytic corners of the discipline. Yet, more often than not, sociologists of religion and specialists in the study of social movements have failed to recognize the common grounds in which the two types of movements are rooted, opting instead to address different problems and formulate separate paradigms” (Hannigan, 1991). This shows how religion plays an important role in the theory of functionalism.

    The conflict theory has an important impact on the views of the individuals within a religious organization. Many religions contain or adhere to various beliefs that some or many view as a conflicting with science. The individuals of these religions usually take these beliefs and apply them in every aspect of their personal lives. Many Protestant Christian religions follow strict rules and regulations for their personal lives, and some of these rules call for them to try to attest or at least spread their views to as many other people as they can.

    Their beliefs often bring them into disputes, conflicts, and tensions among members of other religions or those who share a different set of beliefs. For example, Westboro Baptist Church’s controversial protests against American fallen soldiers drew a lot of attention from society and the press. While many people believed that they had no right to protest these funerals, however the Federal Court believed differently. This shows how conflict theory comes into play when evaluating how a religion can alter a society’s view on a subject.

    Conflict theory focuses on social inequality and group conflict. Religion is a very sensitive topic and one must use caution when trying to minister to others, otherwise conflict will most certainly occur. (Vissing, 2011) The theory of interactionism has an important effect on the individuals within a religious organization. Each individual who is part of any religion will interact with different people, views, beliefs, and groups on various levels with each time they engage in religious activities.

    Interactionism affects the views of all within the religious institutions through the use of symbols and face to face interactions. Symbolic meanings vary from person to person and also determine how individuals will interact with one another. For example, one of the most recognized symbols in Christianity is the cross. The cross is symbolic and sacred for Christians. It represents Christ Jesus who was nailed up on the cross and gave his life for our salvation. “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) Many Christians still traveled to the “Holy” land where Jesus died for our sins. Religions all over the world have various symbols and meaning that each believe in and recognized according to one’s own religion. Each individuals views symbols differently due to their own religious beliefs. Religions have the power to alter the views of a society though many different social methods and actions. These theories of sociology affect the approach to social change within the religious institutions.

    Sociology theories hold that religious views are one of the main factors in determining an individual’s ability to adapt to social change. For example, the traditional Protestant Christians in the United States are typically seen as not having the same ability to adapt to social change as an atheist would that holds a more liberal, open-minded view towards any kind of social change. This shows that an individual or even a group such as the many different religious institutions have different views on social change because of their religious views.

    Theories allow us to understand why things in this world are the way they are. Religion allows us Christians to understand why things are and give us a higher purpose. A world without religion or theories would be a world of not knowing and assumptions. Religious organizations usually do not support the combination of religion and theory together. Within religious institutions it is either one or the other, more than not it is always religion. As religion continues to grow and expand across the globe, there will always be some approach to social change.

    Individuals and groups are capable of working in cohesion. However, they are also incapable which creates tension and conflict in our society today. Religious views, beliefs, and activities are all things that have an important effect on the individual and religious groups. Society as a whole has a need for an explanation of the un-explained, social interaction, and similar spiritual beliefs that is served by religion. This need is not filled without affecting the social views of billions around the world.

    Religion is a deeply-held subject that people are very passionate about, no matter what others in society might say. These theories of sociology play an important role on the impact on social behaviors of the institutions as a whole, and on an individual level. Interactionism and functionalism are similar in that they both have a purpose in religious ceremonies, rites, and activities. Each religion has its own rules, beliefs, and traditions that fall into both categories of interactionism and functionalism.

    Conflict theory is an important part of the social aspect of religion, particularly in historical terms. Conflict among and within the religions is something that has been part of our history since the beginning of time. The fact of the matter is that each of these three theories serves a very important purpose in helping us understand the sociological effects that religion has on society. Each one of these sociological theories has a different impact on the institution of religion.

    Every religion has some kind of interaction that requires communication, fellowship, or social interaction, so therefore the sociological theories of functionalism, interactionism, and conflict all have a significant impact on all religious institutions. Religion is part of our society, and will continue to be a part of our society in the years to come. Whether it will have the same impact or effects on society is yet to be seen. However, it seems to me that religion and its sociological effects are going to continue to grow and change, just as they always have. This aper has discussed 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.


    Bartos, J. , & Wehr, P. (2002). Using Conflict Theory. Social conflict. Social sciences. Retrievedfrom https://catdir. loc. gov/catdir/samples/cam031/2001043151. pdf Blumer, H. (1980). Mead and Blumer: The Convergent Methodological Perspectives of SocialBehaviorism and Symbolic Interactionism. American Sociological Review, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 409-419. Retrieved from http://www. jstor. org/stable/2095174 Bottomore, T. B. (1964). Karl Marx, Selected writings in sociology and social philosophy. NewYork: McGraw-Hill. Retrieved from https://content. ashford. edu Hannigan, J. (1991). Social Movement Theory and the Sociology of Religion: Toward a NewSynthesis. Sociological analysis, 52(4). Retrieved fromhttp://socrel. oxfordjournals. org/content/52/4/311. full. pdf Vissing, Y. (2011). Introduction to Sociology. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Retrieved from https://content. ashford. edu

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