Full Text

3. The Functional Theory of Religion

Victor Lidz

Subject Sociology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405188524.2010.00005.x


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

Log In

You are not currently logged-in to Blackwell Reference Online

If your institution has a subscription, you can log in here:


     Forgotten your password?

Find out how to subscribe.

Your library does not have access to this title. Please contact your librarian to arrange access.

[ access key 0 : accessibility information including access key list ] [ access key 1 : home page ] [ access key 2 : skip navigation ] [ access key 6 : help ] [ access key 9 : contact us ] [ access key 0 : accessibility statement ]

Blackwell Publishing Home Page

Blackwell Reference Online ® is a Blackwell Publishing Inc. registered trademark
Technology partner: Semantico Ltd.

Blackwell Publishing and its licensors hold the copyright in all material held in Blackwell Reference Online. No material may be resold or published elsewhere without Blackwell Publishing's written consent, save as authorised by a licence with Blackwell Publishing or to the extent required by the applicable law.

Back to Top