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3. The Functional Theory of Religion

Victor Lidz


Subject Sociology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405188524.2010.00005.x


Extract

The functional theory of religion focuses on relationships between religion and other social institutions, in both synchronic and diachronic perspectives. Its guiding notion has been that religions shape the values that ground the major institutions of societies and that, reciprocally, many practical circumstances in a society condition its religious life. Functional theory has particularly emphasized long term effects of religion on other institutions, including strata formation and legal, political, economic, educational, and cultural institutions. In the cases of the world religions, such as, Christianity or Buddhism, functional theory has focused on religion's part in shaping trends of development for entire civilizations. This chapter examines the writings of three major contributors to the functional theory of religion, Talcott Parsons, Niklas Luhmann, and Robert N. Bellah. Parsons’ early masterwork, The Structure of Social Action ( Parsons, 1937 ), established the basic framework for the functional theory of religion. It found this framework in a theoretical convergence among four early twentieth-century social scientists, Alfred Marshall, Vilfredo Pareto, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber. Parsons argued that all four figures had treated norms as well as ends, means, and conditions as categories essential to all social scientific analysis, making the concept of norms a universal ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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