In order to understand the significance of religion and family for both the private and public spheres, we must see clearly their unique characteristics and how they interrelate
Social scientific notions of the disappearance or vestigialization of religion and family are deeply rooted in our theoretical conceptions of the social processes that created the modern world and that now are transforming that modernity into postindustrial, postmodern society. Theories of modernization envision social change as entailing the rationalization of all spheres of existence. In a statement characterizing the classic modernization approach, Moore (1963, p. 79) says, ‘A major feature of the modern world is that the rational orientation is pervasive and a major basis for deliberate change in virtually every aspect of man’s concerns.’ There is little room for the seemingly irrational and unscientific impulses of religion, primary emotions, and familial concerns. With this approach, the secularization of religion is a given. Even with regard to the role of religion in human affairs, the ‘rational spirit’ takes the form of secularization, the substitution of nonreligious beliefs and practices for religious ones.’’ Though religion survives, it addresses ‘‘personal misfortune and bereavement’’ above all else in modern society.
Furthermore, economic modernization tends to have negative consequences for extended kinship systems and leads to extensive family disorganization accompanying the breakdown of traditional patterns and the incomplete establishment of new institutions. For modernization theorists, although families remain significant as consumption units, the ‘decline’ of the family is, at minimum, a metaphor for its consignment to a peripheral societal role. The analogue of the notion of linear secularization of religion is the idea of the loss of family functions. Shaped in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, modernization views have continued to dominate public opinion and much of social scientific discourse.
In general, according to modernization theories, both family and religion are relegated to the ‘private’ sphere, set apart from the broader social processes and, thus, less significant than those broader processes. Despite this widespread orientation, a revolution in the social sciences has been gaining momentum over the last twenty years or so. The message of this revolution is that the modernization perspective is no longer an adequate vision for understanding the dynamics of modernity or the potentials of post modernity for religion and family. In the sociology of religion, the paradigm shift moves social science away from a focus on religion as a disconnected phenomenon to a much more complex view of the nature of religious inter institutional relations. Reflecting this shift, numerous scholars have begun to examine religion as an influence on and as an effect of varied social, political, and economic variables. A market model of religion, based in rational choice propositions, has become the most strongly debated version of the new way of looking at the religious institution.
Similarly for the family, there are many who now argue that, in spite of its changing forms and functions, the family as an institution remains crucially central to social processes and to the patterns of change determining the future of human societies. If not taken into consideration, family processes themselves are liable to torpedo efforts at planned social change and to deflect the vectors of unplanned change in unexpected directions. Attuned to the inter-institutional perspective, this article examines the linkage between family and religion. In spite of its importance, sociologists have given relatively little attention to family and religion together.
In order to understand the significance of religion and family for both the private and public spheres, we must see clearly their unique characteristics and how they interrelate. The inter-institutional relations between family and religion are strong and qualitatively different from other institutional relationships. In pre modern societies kinship was permeated with religious meaning, and in modern societies religion remains closely connected to the family. Some sociologists argued that religion and family have had a close relationship throughout history in both Western and non-Western societies. Some stressed the significance of the connections between these two institutions.
Both the familial and religious institutions are characterized by cultural rather than secondary interests. In other words, associations within the religious and familial spheres pursue interests for their own sake, because they bring direct satisfaction, not because they are means to other interests, as in the case of economy and polity. Both family and religion are devoted to organizing primary group relations. They stand out as the only two institutions that deal with the person as whole rather than just segmented aspects of individual lives. These various similarities that religion and family share serve to strengthen the inter-institutional ties between them. The interrelations between the institutions of religion and family are reciprocal.
Religion provides the symbolic legitimating for family patterns and the family is a requisite for a vigorous religious system because it produces members and instills them with religious values. In fact, numerous familial events are marked in religious contexts (e.g., weddings and funerals), and many religious observances take place within the familial setting (e.g., prayers at meals and bedtime). The special affinity of religion and family as institutions takes varied forms. Almost everywhere, religion provides ritual support for family and kinship structures. This is the case even in highly secularized societies.