Referring primarily to how the parts of a society operate as a whole, the notion of integration has a long sociological pedigree, but one fraught with imprecision. Social integration generally refers to the way shared cultural goods receive normative expression, and also to the functional interdependence of the parts of a social system as in a division of labor.
The concept has its roots in early modern and modern European thought in which the question of social order became salient in light of the great changes that society was undergoing. Classic expressions of the role of religion in social integration are to be found in Marx and Durkheim, both of whom saw it as critical, although less so for future society. Parsons tried to clarify the issue by locating religion's role more clearly in the area of cultural integration, assigning social integration more to other institutions such as law. Religion's periodic role in social conflicts does not necessarily contradict its integrative role. The religious pluralism of most modern societies, by contrast, has presented a more thorough challenge, as is evidenced in the work of Berger and Luckmann. Parsons and Bellah, however, have reassigned this integrative role to a putative "civil religion," thereby circumventing factual religious pluralism. Overall, the concept and religion's role in it are subject to a wide variety of interpretations. Some doubt its continued usefulness for sociological understanding; others still find it an important construct for analyses of religion.
R. Bellah, "Civil Religion in America," Daedalus 96(1967):1-21
É. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (London: Allen & Unwin, 1915)
T. Parsons, The Social System (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1951)
J. Rousseau, On the Social Contract (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987 ).
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