As sociology was developed more and more people began coming up with different theories and perspectives. The world surrounding them influenced their theories and thoughts. Diversities created different takes on these theories. With the social institution of religion it was discovered that the theories of conflict, symbolic interaction and functionalism can all help the study of behaviors and rituals that surround religious beliefs and how this institution is perceived throughout the world. These all make up the sociological perspectives on religion.
Symbolic Interactionism, Conflict theory, and functionalism all have different views on how society functions and operates. With religion, these theories can demonstrate how people are connected socially and what reservations that they have about the afterlife. Each theory offers a different approach and can explain how religion accommodates social interaction, balances power, and allows being spiritual and sharing a common view as humans. Others live their lives based on the symbols associated with love such as marriage, rings, and the cross of their savior that can display affection to God.
Religion is a social institution that defines and distinguishes people all around the world; it relates humanity to spirituality using moral values in most instances. From a functionalist point of view religion can serve several functions in a society like comforting the soul, while at the same time offering a social retreat that can provide social interaction and self control. Religion can also shed light and offer answers that many seek while also providing closure to mysterious anomalies around the globe. There people in almost every society who are interested in knowing how the world was created and those who have questions about the afterlife who often seek religion to fulfill their personal quests. Others use religion seek comfort while dealing with stress and tragedies that occur and often leave an emotional scar.
In the early colonies of what is now the United States, women who at the time were not usually allowed to venture into social groups outside of the home, used churches as a form of social activity. They also used the church to coordinate and organize their fight for equality. Pastors of the church often promoted this in secret allowed women to have meetings inside the church to discuss their ideas. One important function of religion is that it provides a social activity and creates an opportunity to interact socially in a different environment other than the home. Churches also provide support for families who have less income. Usually religion offers a common place for people to interact who hold the same views. Religion also promotes self control and provides a social platform for other to follow. Wearing nice clothes while in the church, having reverence and respect, and abiding by a code of conduct are all things that religion can teach. Churches also help the needy and provide many other forms of social interaction like food drives, church sports, and support groups.
Religion also provides companionship and teaches people to obey laws that control society outside of religion. Religion can also control sexual behaviors. Many religions preach and promote that sex before marriage is morally wrong. Religion also offers forgiveness and for most types unconditional love. All of these things offer social stability and promote healthy spiritual lives. For sociologists like Emile Durkheim, religion was believed to help bind the members of society to a group. . Rewards in heaven motivate many religions, so for a conflict theorist they will eventually receive reward because it is inevitable. Those in power in a religion are often able to dictate practices, rituals, and beliefs.
Conflict theorist may feel that religion offers a sense of balance that may keep religion as a social institution. From a conflict theorist perspective men are poor and rich because they have another plan in the afterlife. This widely seen in the Catholic faith where bishops and cardinals control somewhat of a bureaucracy where there ultimate authority is the Pope. Popes are believed by many to have direct communication to the divine. Religion is also an example of a cultural universal because it is found in all societies in one form or another. Naturally from a conflict theorist perspective, religion balances and adds structure to the universe by allowing people to have social interaction while also having something or someone to believe in. Religion can be perceived as justification of the inequalities and thus lays a foundation and preserves the power center or the greater picture which makes up society. Religion from this perspective provides justification for the outside world’s social problems and gives people an outlet to deal with everyday problems.
In the Bible, the most published book in the world, conflicts divide nations and create desires to leave cities in order to find a different God. This is a great example of Marx’s theory of how a problematic society can cause the need to divide and find another source. From the conflict theorist perspective, those in the stories of the Bible who seeking a new life , god, pasture, were doing so because it will keep the much needed balance that is almost certainly required in order to move forward. A perfect example is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where the citizens had a social conflict and Abraham and lot decide to leave the city in order to find another religion. The new found God discovered by Abraham offers a place for the new society to cope with all the problems surrounding the destruction of their city and families. Maybe it was not as organized as today’s religion but one can see the theory being practiced in this example. Religion is not simply the ideological expression of the powerful, legitimating the social hierarchy- as in the case for example of singing hymns with the hidden message that there is a “King in Heaven” so there shall be kings on earth (Raines, 2002).
The cross has long been a symbol of the Christian faith. Christians revere the cross as they believe that their savior Jesus was crucified for their sins which make up the basis of the beliefs Christianity. To interactionists, beliefs and experiences are not sacred unless individuals in a society regard them as sacred. In Judaism the Star of David is the symbol by which they are recognized. In Muslim faith the star and the crescent represent their faith. All these symbols communicate to the practitioners, which is how symbolic interactionist would be mostly be interested in. With symbolic interactionism researchers analyze the communication between individuals. For example from this perspective symbolic interactionist perhaps would be interested in the communications between the pastor and members of a religion. Shared symbols interpret the basis of reality through acknowledgment of these symbols. The symbols, whether it may be a cross, or a star help to remember why and structure the basis for the belief.
In Catholic faith the mother of Jesus, Mary is symbolic as she was a virgin who gave birth to the savior. In the other forms of Christianity Mary is adorned, but just not as much as can be seen in the Catholic faith. This distinguishes the Catholic faith from other types of religion within the realm of Christianity. Another example is the rosary, which is used by Catholics for prayer. It holds a very symbolic meaning to this Christian belief which no other faith recognizes, thus distinguishing it from the others. The beads symbolize a different prayer, and at first glance resemble a necklace but are not used as such. Within other forms of Christianity manger scenes of the birth of Jesus are displayed in almost every Christian Church around the world during Christmas. If these symbols did not exist then religion would probably not exist. The two go hand in hand and to survive they must coexist.
In Hinduism many symbolic gods are worshiped. The swastika which now is associated with Nazi Germany was a symbol of luck to the Hindus before Hitler misconstrued its identity. In Buddhism, Buddha is worshiped much like Jesus to the Christians. All religions have cultural universals that consist of symbols, faith, ideologies which all teach morals of importance through scriptures. The biggest of these scriptures is the Bible in Christian faith. The Bible also acts as symbol and connects interactions between priest and followers.
In terms of social change beyond immigration, functionalism provides an understanding of the rapid, almost anomic, social change American society is undergoing(S, Gerardi 2010). Max Weber suggested that society has sets of values which are revered and supported through social life. Social activities according to Weber attribute and create values that are a type of agreement in society of shared values. These shared values are part of a collective conscience. This is a completely different approach compared to the conflict theory where Marx insisted that religion is a mirrored emotion of the suffering of society that helps people to cope with the struggles of government.
Marx was heavily criticized in his work on religion by claiming that religion was the opium of the people. It also be ascertained that Marx must have believed that religion created major conflicts throughout history. Evidence can be seen in holy wars, wars between Muslim and Christianity, or even before in the early Viking and Catholics who fought over land rights and difference of opinion, these differences must have been between religions to cause so many people to kill. Or even a greater example of Marx’s conflict theory on religion is evident with battles fought when monasticism was introduced where the Ottomans and Romans fought vigorously to gain control of the cities like Constantinople and Anatolia. The divide of Eastern and Western Christianity also illustrates the conflict theory.
The whole continent of South America was split due to tensions between Portugal and Spain who were fighting constantly over the control of the new land. The desire for the new land was an issue as well but it can be traced to religious altercations as well. In 1494 Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the world along and imaginary north -south line 370 leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands (Bentley, 2008).This was a direct result of conflicts over land that can also be contributed to the differences in religion. The treaty only helped to alleviate any further conflicts, thus why there is a part of South America that is predominately influenced by Portugal and the other eastern side of the great divide, over the Andes Mountains, is influenced by Spain. The Spanish were quick to kill anyone who did not believe in their god and countless indigenous people were slaughtered over their unwillingness to conform to the Spaniards take on religion. It seems that Karl Marx was a very intelligent individual who had some very great points on the conflict theory.
The symbolic interactionism theory and its approach on religion are also evident in cults and other groups that are not considered religious as well. Cults of groups who worship the devil have long been associated with the goat and the number 666. The groups identify themselves with these symbols. The symbolic theory is a very valid and has proven to be a main part of all religion. Young people who have never been influenced by Christianity or any other religion might be drawn in to the symbols of 666 or the goat due to the fact that they like heavy metal music. This music praises and pastes these symbols on their cds, t-shirts, and other media, which draws in and converts many young people with just the symbolic images alone. These people in turn attach these symbols to part of their everyday life in the early Alaskan cultures where anthropologist and archaeologist study beliefs in totemism, people worship and revere statues usually made of wood. These are usually depicted as animals and offer a spiritual connection and kinship qualities.
A key concern for interactionist sociology is with the manner through which human beings go about the task of assembling meaning: how we define ourselves, our bodies and impulses, our feelings and emotions, our behaviors and acts; how we define the situations we are in, develop perspectives on the wider social order, produce narratives and stories to explain our actions and lives; how such meanings are constantly being built up through interaction with others, and how these meanings are handled, modified, transformed, and hence evolve through encounters(Plummer, Ken,2000). The Catholic Church from a functionalist perspective might be perceived as an institution that recognizes that there are inequalities and perhaps in their eyes it is part of God’s plan to balance out society. Other functionalists like Max Weber believe in an interrelationship between the church and government. Weber (1904/1958) thought there was an interrelationship between religion, the capitalistic economy, and bureaucratic organizations that reinforced the existence of each of these institutions (Vissing, 2010).Many people feel that especially the Catholic Church is involved with the government. It is obvious that they both operate under a bureaucracy and are highly organized.
Many have suggested that the Catholic Church holds countless information from scientific cures to information regarding UFOS. The United States government is also been accused of withholding important information from its people, much in the same way that the Catholic church chooses which information to release from the Vatican, which acts like the White House in Washington. 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.
Religion gives people a way to explain the otherwise unexplainable, and gives meaning and purpose to life (Vissing, 2010). This is what fuels and drives religion from the functionalist perspective. Faith can be the biggest aid in most religions. The hope of an afterlife can in many ways regulate how the time is spent on Earth. In almost every religion there is some form of afterlife. In Buddhism many believe in reincarnation. These beliefs explain the mysteries and questions that everyone has.
With these three theories it appears that Religion suffers from any negative impact but rather fuels the desires based on faith. While the Conflict theory on religion was made negatively famous by Karl Marx, it can also give motive and drive for priest and pastors to seek those who have yet to find God and rebel in disbelief. With the Symbolic approach religious symbols are only strengthened and give people a constant reminder of why they believe what they believe. Crosses and fish symbols represent Protestant churches all around the United States, which is a constant reminder that defines those who practice religion. From the functionalist perspective churches are built bigger than others and church becomes commercial but there may be no reaction from the people because in the end it will balance out.
Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Karl Marx and many others have stated their views on religion through the theories of Symbolic interactionism, conflict and functionalism. It is important to note that all can be considered right and wrong with their depictions depending on which perspective is philosophized. These perspectives help all to understand religion from various the theories of sociology and offer new insights as to what can create a spiritualistic social interaction. It also can shed light as to why many are atheist,while others believe in reincarnation, and why many remain faithful even after the worst tragedies occur in life. These social interactions and theories help us to have hope in the afterlife and in some ways answer questions about what happens after death.