Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


The concept of system as a boundary-maintaining set of elements in interdependent relationships can be applied to various levels of social life (Buckley 1967). One example is structural-functional theory, dominant in the United States during the 1950s and early 1960s, which emphasized the function of religion as a basic institution that helps contribute to social integration through fulfilling the need for shared values (Parsons 1971). This consensual model has proved to be inadequate. Although the role of religion may vary for different segments of society, religion as a framework of ultimate meaning that helps provide structure for collective life is still recognized (Luhmann 1984). Moreover, religious organizations themselves may be analyzed as systems—each congregation, for example, being regarded as a system that is part of an even larger system (Scherer 1980). The systems theory emphasis on varying degrees and forms of interdependence also may be used in analyzing the role of religion in the emerging global order (Robertson 1991).

Doyle Paul Johnson


W. Buckley, Sociology and Modern Systems Theory (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1967)

N. Luhmann, Religious Dogmatics and the Evolution of Societies (Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen, 1984)

T. Parsons, The System of Modern Societies (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1971)

R. Robertson, Religion and Global Order (New York: International Religious Foundation, 1991)

R. P. Scherer, American Denominational Organization (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1980)

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