three theoretical positions (structural-functionalism, conflict theory, and the symbolic-interactionist perspective) on the sociology of religion
Theoretical Positions in the Sociology of Religion
Theoretical Positions in the Sociology of Religion
The sociological perspective lay emphasis on the social contexts that people live in, it then examines how the contexts influence our lives. The sociological perspective is raising the question of how people are influenced by groups, especially how the society influences its people. The society refers to a group of people who share both a territory and culture. Sociologists consider the social location of people to find out why they behave in a certain way. The social location refers to the positions that people occupy in the society because of their status. The ideas and behaviors of individuals in the society are influenced by aspects such as gender, race, income, education, jobs, and ethnicity. This paper summarizes the three social perspectives by James M. Henslin and then draws the contrast and comparison between them.
The central idea in structural-functionalism perspective is a view that society is a unit, which is made up of interrelated parts working together. The perspective is entrenched in the basis of sociology. The society is compared to an animal’s body that requires harmony between the body parts so as to run smoothly. The society is also viewed as a composition of many parts where every part has its function. Robert Merton (1910-2003) dismissed the view of comparing the society to an animal’s body. He, however, agreed that society is a whole unit that comprises parts that work together. He referred the actions of the parts of the society to the beneficial consequences that people get from their actions. These functions can help in keeping the society in balance. Dysfunctions are harmful consequences of the actions of individuals and undermine the equilibrium of the society’s system.
The conflict theory views the society as the composition of many groups that compete for the scarce resource that are available in the society. The surface of the society shows harmony between individuals, but there is a struggle for power in it. Karl Marx founded the theory. He was a witness to the industrial revolution that led to the revolution of Europe. Karl Marx saw the struggle that peasant farmers who had gone to work in the city underwent as they tried to make a living. He concluded that classic conflict was a key to human history. Today, the theory is extended beyond the link between capitalists and workers. Many sociologists scrutinize how opposing interests exist in every layer of the society. There exist a constant struggle in the society where parties try to determine which try has more authority or influence, and which party has dominance. People who are close distribute powers and privileges. Any change in the arrangement leads to hurt feelings and conflict.
The central idea in symbolic-integrationist perspective is that symbols are essential in understanding how people see the world and communicate with each other. The symbols refer to things that people attach meaning to; the theory was developed by Charles Horton Cooley and George Herbert Mead. Without symbols, our lives in the society would be sophisticated like that of animals. There would be no symbols to tell us how we relate to our families. We would also not acknowledge whom we should expect privileges from and also the people who we owe respect as well as obligations. These are the two elements that are essential in human relationships. Apart from relationships, the society too depends on symbols. They help in the coordination of our actions together with those of others. There would be no plans for the future, goals, governments or religion. Symbolic interactions, therefore, analyze how people depend on how they define themselves and others. They study how we make sense out of our lives and our place in life.
The three social perspectives agree in the essence of the society. They all define the society as a whole unit that comprises of many parts. The structural-functionalism perspective states that the parts that make up the society must perform their actions for the smooth running of the society. The parts of the societies refer to the individuals in the society. The conflict theory also agrees that individuals can work in harmony if power and privileges are distributed between the parties. The symbolic-interactionist perspective agrees that symbols help in defining human relationships and hence help in the coordination of the many parts that make up the society. However, there are differences between the three perspectives. Whereas the structural-functional perspective shows harmony between the parts of the society, the conflict theory shows the conflict that exists between the various parts.
In conclusion, the three perspectives on sociology try to define the social contexts in which individuals live. They define what influences our actions and behaviors. It is, therefore, important to study them to understand the human behavior. Individuals in the society must acknowledge the fact that they make up the society and, therefore, should play a role in its well-being. Individuals should work in harmony with others, and at the same time compete for the scarce resources that are available in the society, they also need to take advantage of the symbols that enhance human relations.
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