Looking Ahead

This unit starts considering sociological analysis of the major social institutions. First, it focuses on the family and its importance as a cultural universal. Particular attention is given to the functions of the family. Then the unit presents religion and the world’s major religious faiths. The basic functions of religion are explored and different sociological approaches to studying religion are introduced. Finally, the unit analyzes the process of secularization in modem industrial society on the one hand, and the increasing influence of religion within contemporary human life on the other hand.

Learning Objectives

After studying this unit you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • 1. Are all families necessarily composed of a husband, a wife, and their children?
  • 2. How do societies vary in the way that power within the family is distributed?
  • 3. What functions does the family perform for society?
  • 4. What are the basic forms of religious organization? Which of them prevails in modem industrial society and why?
  • 5. What sociological approaches to the functions of religion are known? Why did Karl Marx view religion as a form of social control within an oppressive society?
  • 6. Will religion survive despite the process of secularization?


The family as a social institution is present in all cultures. A family can be defined as a set of persons related by blood, marriage (or some agreed-upon relationship) or adoption who share the primary responsibility for reproduction and caring for members of society. 5*

Although the organization of the family can very greatly, there are certain general principles concerning its composition, descent patterns, residence patterns, and authority patterns.

Composition: What Is the Family?

In human society the family has traditionally been viewed in very narrow terms — as a married couple and their unmarried children living together. However, this is but one type of family, what sociologists refer to as a nuclear family upon which larger family groups are built. But only a certain part of households will fit this model. A family in which relatives other than parents and children - such as grandparents, aunts and uncles — live in the same home is know as an extended family. While not common, such living arrangements do exist. The structure of the extended family offers certain advantages. Crises, such as death, divorce, and illness involve less strain for family members, since there are more individuals who can provide assistance and emotional support. In addition, the extended family constitutes a larger economic unit than the nuclear family. If the family is engaged in a common enterprise - for example, running a farm or a small business — the additional family members may represent the difference between prosperity and failure.

In considering these differing family types, we have limited ourselves to the term of marriage which is called monogamy. The term monogamy describes a form of marriage in which one woman and one man are married only to each other. Some observers, noting a high rate of divorce in modern society, have suggested a more accurate term «serial monogamy» under which a person is allowed to have several spouses in his or her life but can have only one spouse at a time.

Some cultures allow an individual to have several husbands or wives simultaneously. This form of marriage is known as polygamy. You may be surprised to learn that most societies throughout the world, past and present, have exhibited a preference for polygamy, not monogamy. Polygamy cultures devalue the social worth of women.

Descent Patterns: To Whom Are We Related?

The state of being related to others is called kinship.The family and the kin group are not necessarily the same. While the family is a household unit, kin do not always live or function together. Kin groups include aunts, cousins, in-laws, and so forth.

Family Residence: Where Do We Live?

Formally, a married couple is expected to establish a separate household. However, if we take a cross-cultural view, it is relatively uncommon. In many societies, the bride and groom live either with his or her parents. The reason for it is that the new couples need the emotional support and especially the economic support of their kinfolk.

Authority Patterns: Who Rules?

Imagine that you are recently married and must begin to make decisions about the future of your new family. Immediately, an issue is raised: «Who has the power to make the decision?», in simpler terms, who rules the family?

Societies vary in the way that power within the family is distributed. If a society expects males to dominate in all family decision making, it is termed a patriarchy. Women hold low status in such societies. By contrast, in a matriarchy, women have greater authority than men. But researchers have come to the conclusion that in modern history there is not a society which truly has this pattern of family organization.

Some marital relationships may be neither male-dominated nor female-dominated. The third type of authority pattern, the egalitarian family, is one in which spouses are regarded as equals. This does not mean, however, that each decision is shared in such families. Mothers may hold authority in some spheres, fathers in others. In the view of many sociologists, the egalitarian family has begun to replace the patriarchal family as the social norm.

Functions of the Family: Do We Really Need the Family?

A century ago Frederick Engels, a colleague of Karl Marx, described the family as «the ultimate source of social inequality». More recently other theorists have stated that the family contributes to social injustice, denies opportunities to women, and limits freedom in sexual expression and mate selection.

In order to evaluate such issues, it is helpful to examine the functions the family fulfills. There are six of them:

  • 1. Reproduction. For a society to maintain itself, it must replace dying members.
  • 2. Protection. Human infants need constant care, economic security, upbringing.
  • 3. Socialization. Parents and other kin monitor a child’s behavior and transmit the norms, values and language of a culture to the child.
  • 4. Regulation of sexual behavior. Standards of sexual behavior are most clearly defined within the family circle.
  • 5. Affection and companionship. The family is obliged to serve the emotional needs of its members. We expect our relatives to understand us, to care for us, and to be there with us when we need them.
  • 6. Providing of social status. We inherit a social position because of the «family background» and reputation of our parents. Moreover, the family resources affect our ability to pursue certain opportunities such as higher education and specialized lessons.


I. Read and translate the text using a dictionaryif necessary.

II. Find in the text the English equivalents for the following:

быть связанным узами крови (брака), заранее определенные отношения, делить ответственность, заботиться о ком-либо (любить), очень отличаться, состав (семьи), рассматриваться очень узко, семья (домашние, хозяйство), подходить (соответствовать) чему-либо, развод, так...как, оказывать помощь и поддержку, вести хозяйство, процветание, неудача (провал), ограничиваться чем-либо, жениться на (выйти замуж за), состоять в браке с, высокий уровень разводов, супруг(а), одновременно, оказывать предпочтение чему-либо, обесценивать социальную значимость, происхождение, родство — родственники (2), родственники (со стороны жены или мужа), и так далее, местожительство, жить отдельно, жених и невеста, принимать решения, возникает проблема, проще говоря, супружеские отношения, иметь вес (влияние), заменять, основной источник, общественное неравенство, вести к социальной несправедливости, лишать женщин возможностей, ограничивать свободу, выбор партнера (супруга), несовершеннолетний, нуждаться в постоянной заботе, безопасность, воспитание, внутри семейного окружения, любовь, товарищество (общение), реализовать возможности.

III. Supply the missing words or word combinations choosing among those given below.

1) A family can be defined as a set of persons related by some ... relationship. 2) There are certain general principles ...the family organization. 3) In human society the family has been traditionally viewed in very ... . 4) The structure of the extended family ... certain advantages. 5) Crises involve less ... for extended families. 6) Extended families are often ... in a common enterprise. 7) Some sociologists, noting a high ... of divorce, have suggested a more ... term «serial monogamy». 8) Most societies ... the world have ... a preference for polygamy, not monogamy. 9) The state of being related to other is called ... but... do not always live or function together. 10) Formally, a married couple is expected ... a separate household. 11) Societies vary in the way that power within the family is ....12) Some ...relationships may be neither ... nor ... . 13) In the egalitarian family ... are regarded as ... . 14) This does not mean that in the egalitarian family each decision is ... . 15) For a society ... itself, it must ... dying members. 16) Human ... need ... care, economic ... and ... . 17) We ... a social position because of the «family background* and the ... of our parents. 18) Moreover, the family resources ... our ability ... certain opportunities.

affect, to pursue, inherit, reputation, infants, constant, security, upbringing, to maintain, replace, shared, spouses, equals, marital, male-dominated, female-dominated, distributed, to establish, kinship, kin, throughout, exhibited, rate, accurate, engaged, a train, offers, narrow terms, concerning, agreed-upon.

IV. Studythe following word combinations and use then in sentences of your own.

to be related by, to share responsibilities, to care for, to vary greatly, to be viewed in very narrow terms, to fit smth, to offer certain advantages, to involve strain for smth, to provide assistance and support, to be engaged in a common enterprise, to limit oneself to, at a time, to exhibit, a preference for, to devalue smb’s social worth, to establish a separate household, either ... or ... , a reason for, to make decisions about, to be termed, to come to a conclusion, neither... nor ..., to be regarded as equals, to hold authority, in order to do smth, to need constant care, to monitor smth, to be obliged, to pursue certain opportunities.


I. Reread the text and answer the following questions.

1) What is the family as far as its composition is concerned? 2) What living arrangements exist in human society? 3) How can you prove that the extended family offers certain advantages over the nuclear family? 4) What forms of marriage do you know? 5) What docs the cross-cultural view about the family residence show? 6) How do societies vary in the way that power within the family is distributed? 7) Do you agree that in the egalitarian family spouses are regarded as equals? 8) Do you believe that the egalitarian family will replace the patriarchal family in our society? 9) What are the functions of the family in modem society? 10) Why do you think it is helpful to examine the functions the family fulfills?

II. Define the following key terms and memorize the definitions:

family, nuclear family, extended family, monogamy, «serial monogamy», polygamy, kinship, patriarchy, matriarchy, egalitarian family.

III. Speak on the family,its aspects,structure,patterns and functions in brief and illustrate your reports withexamples and situations of your own.

IV. Comment on the title of the text «The family: Universal but Varied».

V. Speak about your family,your parents and kin viewing them from the sociological perspective and employing the sociological terms described in the text.

‘ VI. Comment on the following and give your reasons for or against.

1) Most societies throughout the world, past and present, have exhibited a preference for polygamy, not monogamy. 2) Researchers have come to the conclusion that in modern history there is not a society which truly has the matriarchal pattern of family organization. 3) In the egalitarian family the mother holds authority in some spheres, the father — in others. 4) «The family is the ultimate source of social inequality» (Friedrich Engels). Does it still hold true?

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