Online College Courses for Credit

Family Structure

Family Structure

Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson will discuss the how religion impacts the family structure indifferent traditions.

See More
Fast, Free College Credit

Developing Effective Teams

Let's Ride
*No strings attached. This college course is 100% free and is worth 1 semester credit.

29 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

311 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 27 of Sophia’s online courses. Many different colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.


Source: Public Domain Music by J.S. Bach, "Gigue". The Holy Bible. New York: Oxford UP, 1769. Print. Authorized King James Vers.; King James Bible Online, 2008. SOURCE: MUSIC BY J.S. BACH; "GIGUE." HTTP://FREEPD.COM/

Video Transcription

Download PDF

[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello and welcome. Today we're going to ask the question, what is the makeup of family and some of the religions of the world? How is family organized? And how are the values of that organization expressed?

We can start with two of our key terms. Monogamy. Monogamy is generally understood as marriage between one man and one woman. Polygamy, on the other hand, is generally understood as marriage between one man and more than one woman. More rarely, between one woman and more than one man.

In the Judeo-Christian in the Jewish and Christian faith, there's a long and a varied history with respect to marriage and partnerships. In general, monogamy and polygamy in these two Abrahamic traditions, has a complex background and a very broad range of interpretation. One example of a monogamous family unit that some practitioners of Judaism refer to for support of the monogamous union, is in the Hebrew Bible, in Genesis. Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

So there are references to childbearing and different spiritual values attributed to that in the different traditions, as well. And Christianity in the Roman Catholic tradition, most authoritative early in the Middle Ages, the institution of marriage was described and put forth as the union between one man and one woman. There are, however, some Christian groups then recognize and practice polygamy.

Some practitioners of Mormon fundamentalism, for example, have more than one wife, in the context of what is called plural marriage. Which is associated with certain ethical and spiritual commitments of the faith. And again, with this there is a wide range of interpretation and tolerance with respect to the church, the Church of Latter-day Saints, as well as the legal and the civic recognition of the practice. The Church of Latter-day Saints, for example in 1890, officially stopped recognizing polygamy. Yet certain branches of Mormonism still do today, recognize in practice polygamy.

In some African Muslim countries, as well, there's a range of interpretation, different recognition in different levels of tolerance with respect to the polygamist family structure . For example, in South Africa polygamy is officially illegally. Yet some social service benefits are not withheld from those who practice what is called traditional polygamy.

In North Africa the practice of having more than one wife or husband, in rare cases, is generally more accepted. Yet it is not widespread, nor is it even very common. And again, it varies a bit from country to country.

In other areas of Africa, in Kenya for example, where approximately 12% of the population is Muslim, polygamy is more officially recognized. It's not illegal and it's not officially legalized, but it is generally more recognized.

And within all the religions that we've been discussing, there has been, and there continues to be, a wide range of interpretation and recognition and acceptance, legality and acceptance of these alternative family structures, and most notably polygamy.

Homosexuality is another example. As we just said in the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church very authoritatively put forth, that marriage is a sacrament to be enjoyed between one man one woman. This is almost universally still the case with the Roman Catholic Church. This is their position on marriage, almost universally.

However, certain Protestant denominations have approved, either officially or in principle, of the right for individuals of the same gender to partake in the sacrament of marriage. But there continues to be debate about this from within the denomination's, between denominations, and, of course, from outside one and all of the denominations at times. In the way it affects civil life and the ongoing questions of the separation of church and state, and issues of individual freedom, personal choice, and again how the civic life and religion are related or not. An ongoing question that we can continue to think about.

Terms to Know

The sexual preference for, or the engaging in sex acts with, person of the same sex.


Marriage between one man and one woman.


Marriage between one man and more than one woman, or (rarely) marriage between one woman and more than one man.