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Family Structure

Family Structure


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

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this tutorial on the family structure. Religion has a big impact on how societies organize the family and specifying exactly which types of family structures should be deemed appropriate. Societies often take their cues from a religion in determining the appropriateness of family structures. And these social mores often get enshrined in law.

Let's take a look at a few different types of family structure. Within most religions in the world today, monogamy is recommended. That is to say, you marry one partner and stay with them, ideally for life. Divorce was stigmatized in much of Christian history and still continues to be stigmatized today in many religions around the world. So for the most part, though, monogamy is a norm.

There is polygamy-- that is, marrying more than one person-- in some religions today. The fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints-- the fundamentalist Mormons in Utah are gaining some press and in other states out west as well, in the United States. For polygamy, which is marrying more than one wife. The fundamentalist leader Warren Jeffs got arrested for this. Unfortunately, a lot of child abuse was also associated with this practice.

Also in Islam, in Africa, polygamy is sometimes practiced. This is permitted in the Qur'an. Of course, the Jewish and Christian scriptures also mention polygamy in terms of the patriarchs.

There's also a much more rare practice of polyandry, which is when a woman marries more than one man. This is practiced in Nepal, in Tibet in the Himalayan region, where resources were historically scarce. And so to limit childbirth, a woman was permitted to marry more than one man-- frequently, two brothers. And this kept the population low and enable people to survive on relatively scarce resources. But this is comparatively rare in the world today.

Probably there have always been homosexual relationships. That is, having a preference for partners of the same sex and or engaging in sex with people of the same sex. This practice has probably always been around. But now, gay men and women are beginning to come out of the closet, so to speak, and be more open about their relationships.

And so religious groups have to decide what to do about these relationships. Some faiths seem to be more accepting. And other faiths have had a very hard time dealing with this issue. Most recently, big controversies within the Anglican Communion about whether or not gay people should be married, whether or not gay ministers should be ordained, whether or not there should be consecration of gay bishops.

And society as a whole is also dealing with the question of gay marriage, both as a religious ceremony and in terms of civic rights-- all of the federal and state benefits that marriage confers. So society is continuing to deal with this issue. And each religious organization will have to come to own conclusions about how to recognize these relationships.

So far we've said that various religions have different ways so governing and structuring the family. That they condemn some family structures while encouraging others. We talked about monogamy as a relationship between one man and one woman.

And we discussed polygamy and homosexuality. We gave examples of polygamy, including the fundamentalist Mormon church, as well as Islam in Africa. We discussed the question of same-sex marriage and how this is dividing many religious communities.

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.