In chapter 8 of Mcguire’s book, there is discussion of how the role of religion in society has transformed over the decades. While some look to the role of religion in the past and view things such as the predominance of churches, higher church attendance, the prevalence of traditional religious values, and the bleeding of religion into political and social life as important pieces of religion’s “good old days,” it is argued in the book that there were also many downsides to the pervasiveness of religion in the past.
“That same firm sense of tradition and community, however, also gravely restricted individual freedom: Choices of marriage partners, occupations, leisure-time activities, and political options were all controlled, sometimes subtly and often overtly. The societies that so firmly supported traditional religion were generally authoritarian, patriarchal, highly stratified, and nondemocratic. Indeed, the very discovery of the individual, with emotional needs and human rights and prerogatives of choice, is a peculiarly modern feature of a society.” -McGuire, Meredith B.. Religion: The Social Context (Page 284)
This statement echoes some of the conclusions I drew from my sociology capstone last semester. My capstone focused on the transformation of American marriage and how definitions of modern marriage compare to those of the past. One of the conclusions I posited based off of my research is that that modern marriages in general tend to reap more emotional and psychological benefits than in the past. I believe the role of religion in society has a lot to do with this transformation. As marriage has become more about love and companionship than about creating a traditional family unit, and as people have become more and more accepting of flexible definitions of marriage as opposed to the strict definitions of marriage often enforced by churches, the institution has changed to greater benefit spouses.
The value of sociology is being able to see and make these connections. No social institution can exist without being influenced by other institutions, and it is interesting to see how the role of religion has affected other pieces of society.