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Functionalism, Conflict, Interactionism and Religion Essay

Religion is the worship of and the belief in a God or gods. Every individual in life is often entitled to a religion as part of the culture. Devotional and performance of specific rituals characterize religion among the people. Religion possesses moral codes that regulate the affairs of man in the society. The paper seeks to determine how the sociological theories impact religion of an individual (Lizardo, 2009).

Functionalism is a sociological theory that was purposely established to try and explain social institutions and more so religion in this case, as a collective way to end individualism in the society, with focus on the conduct in which social institutions impede social needs. Functionalism is instituted in a way to create an understanding on how social institutions work. Religion for instance has got many roles that it plays in the society. It is the basis for the belief in a god in every society (Lizardo, 2009). Functionalism as a theory applies to the sociological institution of religion in a number of ways.

Religion has been disintegrated to spirituality and then to Christianity. According to the believers of functionalist theory such as Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton there are many functions or rather roles that religion plays in the society. Staying holy is part of Christianity and thus religion. It is believed that holiness protects people from the dangers of the world. Religious people often try to lead a religious life, something that those who don’t have a religiously governed life, don’t really admire.

Religion thus is seen to change the life and even culture of people, not only because of their own sake, but also for the sake of others. Religion offers solace to the believers and helps them overcome the challenges of life. Religion thus is instituted in the theory of functionalism to be of benefit to the society. Sometimes it is believed that religion offers basic need to the believers. This comes up due to the fact that since religion has been translated to groups of beliefs such as Christianity, individuals believe in God according to the teachings.

As they believe in God, God grants them the desires of their heart (Lizardo, 2009). On the other hand, conflict theory applies in the sociological institution of religion in that; the theory suggests that the organization of religion was formed purposely to fulfill the basic human needs. This implies that all the needs of man could be granted with a belief in a god, who when praying to, grants the individual his or her needs. Basic needs can be food, shelter, clothing, and all those other things that man needs to lead a life that is not extreme poverty.

However, religion has been destroyed in its organization and it has been left with one purpose, to safeguard the center of power. From the functionalism theory, religion does not, in its existence, fulfill the basic needs of an individual, but wholly in a different manner. Religion contributes to the equilibrium of the society through the provision of a structure within which the society functions in peace (Lizardo, 2009). Finally, the theory of interactionism applies to the sociological institution by viewing religion just like the functionalist theory of Durkheim.

The two theories, functionalism and interactionism view religion as functional element that man applies to survive. This implies that in interactionism, the role of religion to the society and to an individual where he lives is regarded as of most importance. However, the interactionism theory has no clear definition or understanding on religion. Nevertheless, there have been several perspectives of the theory of interactionism in which many have been approved while others still remain with controversies.

The main idea here is that interactionism theory is that it in a way supports the functionalism theory that regards religion as an important element that has roles to play in the society (Lizardo, 2009). In all the three theories, there are similarities and differences on their applications to the sociological institution of religion. It is evident that in all the three theories, their view point of religion is that of meaningful. This implies that they tend to view religion as something of importance in the society and to the people involved in it in general.

Precisely, the theory of functionalism and that of interactionism give religion a functional role in the society. They bring out religion as something of importance to the society (Lizardo, 2009) The difference in these theories is that in the conflict theory, there are conditions that are attached to the role of religion. For instance, one has to pray to God so as to receive the need that he or she is really lacking. This is so unlike in the other two theories as they presume that religion is a functional institution and it should provide all the basic needs to man with or without asking.

The conflict theory further draws lines of difference in that it deploys the concept of power. This is an implication that, there are some people in the society who are more powerful than others. It outlines concepts that religion brings about equilibrium by providing a structure whereby the society functions peacefully (Livesey, n. d). Each theory is seen to affect the views of every individual in the society. From the theory of functionalism, one can draw a conclusion that religion is not all about building temples and keeping shrines, but real religion is all about healing broken hearts and uniting people to God.

Every Christian believes in a God, and every one prays to that God when in need and the needs are always granted. Staying close to God spiritually makes one have peace and lead a harmonious life. That is a belief that religious people have and they exploit the fact. It is crystal clear that believers lead holy lives, distant from evils of every kind. Therefore, the functionalism theory affects how every individual views religion by the emphasis that it is a functional concept. The conflict theory on the other hand, affects the views of individuals, as far as the sociological institution of religion is concerned.

The conflict theory affects the view point of an individual in that; it makes a person think of religion to be functioning in a way to safeguard the powerful and the rich in their positions. This implies that, even if someone in a powerful position commits a crime, with religion it will be taken just as an accusation. Therefore it is possible to conclude that religion protects and preserves those who are powerful to remain in their positions and help them remain there. This has led to creation of conflicts in the society as criminals are being let to go free, something that the functionalism theory does not recommend and advise (Livesey, n. ).

The interactionism theory affects the views of an individual in that it makes them belief that through religion, they are able to understand things in a better way. This is not approved, but it is a theory. Most interactionists have often argued that religion is a belief system that helps individuals to understand well all the things they come across with in their daily lives. This is achieved through making sense out of those things. People who are religious experience many things in their daily lives, some makes sense to them while others do not make sense.

To those who are not religious, they may never have the capacity to understand anything that happens in nature. Some of these experiences include the mental and physical maps individuals make in their minds as they focus the life they have in the social and natural cycle. The three theories are also known to affect the approach to the social changes, which take place in religion, in a number of ways. For instance, in the functionalism theory, the social changes in religion as a sociological institution include the changes in the society that are religious.

This includes religious marriages, offering of sacrifices to God, transformations from paganism to spirituality and many other changes. The theory of functionalism is known to affect the approach to these social changes. To be precise, religion is believed to transform life and this implies life transformation from bad to good. In every society there is existence of evil. People committing these evils do also exist. There are those bad characters in the society that no one admires, for instance people who rob others of their wealth, murderers, rapists, and many others are so much hated by the community.

This is because they bring harm to the society and no benefit at all. Religion is believed to have the capacity to transform the life of an individual from this devastating state to something that people can admire. This can only be achieved if the victim believes in God and prays to Him. It is the only way to get transformation (Livesey, n. d). The conflict theory affects the approaches to social changes in the religion of individuals in a presumption that religion tends to be more lenient to its believers. The religions do this by supporting some institutions in the society for instance monogamy, family and marriage.

Religion further encourages procreation and banning contraception religion in some cases as this can effectively bring new members that are born into the ideal world that one must produce and keep on the practice of producing as generations pass. Religion does this simply to have more members in their respective religions and keep teaching the new members the rules of the institution and the practices, for instance, children pass through rituals like baptism and confirmations. Religion further ensures that the new members Sunday school masses, Sabbath schools at the temple and festival gatherings (MacDonald, 2009).

Interactionism theory affects the approach to the religious social changes in a similar manner as the functionalism and conflict theories. However, it tends to focus the traditional periods and tries to compare the sociological changes to the present times. Societies in the traditional times had a religious system that was very brief or rather very small. This was due to the fact that the traditional societies involved themselves to one universe of meaning simply because they were systems that were closed.

This implies the fact that in those societies in which one religion is constantly highlighted and made sociable to persons, keeping out of all other religions. It is in these societies that the behavior code is written by the powerful actors in the society, simply because they possess positions in the society (Blumer, 1969). Each theory affects the views of the society. It is crystal clear that the society views religion in different ways. These sociological theories have been known to affect these views of the society in one way or another.

The society for instance views religion as something sacred, that it should be respected simply because it is associated with a supreme being. But in functionalism theory, religion is believed to be the only way through which individuals can come up with an identity as far as the society in concerned. An individual’s faith can be measured through the way his or her religion is tied to the person’s heritage, family and culture. Religion of an individual gives individuals the capacity to endure all difficulties in life and all the individual tragedies that every one goes through in life.

What remains a fact is that not everyone has faith in his or her religion. And this is as a result of the way functionalism theory affects the views of the society about religion (Blumer, 1969). The conflict theory also affects the way people view religion in the society. Religion is believed to give provisions of both power and ability to control people and also to give support in all means possible to those people. Religion achieves this through its forms and with all its mechanisms of authority and cohesion, comfort and confrontation.

Most people in the society have put their trust and confidence on the religion that exists in their culture as it is evident that they have the will to do all that religion requires them to do for they believe it is something right that even their gods will be pleased to see it done. Clearly, this is as a result of the way the conflict theory affects the way individuals or rather the society’s view of religion (MacDonald, 2009). On the other hand, interactionism theory affects the views of the society from the concepts of relations amongst the people in the society.

Every society is build up of relationships. Everyone is at least having a relationship with someone else, for instance relationships maybe fatherhood, brotherhood, sisterhood and many others. For all the studies that have been done, it is evident that religion makes people confident of their current locality. Individuals believe that religion offers optimum security and further still, religion brings a sense of certainty in the uncertain world. Most religious people believe that in this world you can never know what to expect in the near future, everything seems so uncertain.

But with the belief in one person, having total faith in a God who exists, everything seems practical, real and true. In all cultures, there in a trend that is common of taking religion as the only true thing. This has been the result of the psychological, anthropological and sociological researches that have been made. From tradition, many people have believed in religion and it is evident that till now, people still regards religion as something that is real and that it gives people protection in all they do (McClelland, 2009) In conclusion, social institutions exist in almost all societies.

There are the sociological theories that tend to make people in a society understand the sociological institutions. Every theory applies to each sociological institution, for instance the functionalism, conflict and interactionism theory affect religion as a sociological institution. The three theories affect the institution in different ways but at some point there is similarity on how they affect the sociological institution. The theories also affect religion in different ways and individuals view it in different ways too. Further still, all these sociological theories affect the views of the society in various ways.


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