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Religion and the Family

Religion and the Family


This lesson will discuss the inter-relationship between religion and the family, including the ways in which religion influences family structure, on the one hand, and the family may either support or undermine religion.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this tutorial on religion and the family. We're going to begin with the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who said that all human life aims at eudaimonia, or the good life. We can translate eudaimonia as happiness. The fundamental unit of society in Greek thought was the polis-- the city-state. So it was the highest political unit of organization and, in Greek thought, is also what orients all of society.

Oikos means family. And each individual family orients itself towards the city. Family was comprised of parents and children, and also slaves in ancient Greece.

Our word economy comes from the Greek word oikonomia, which has as its root, the family. So Aristotle subtle thought that if all the families were properly directed by the politician, then the polis would be happy.

The constitution of the city is really the way of life of the citizens. So a polis is a religious, political, cultural, and economic union. And we can see in Aristotle the idea that if the relationship between the ruler and the subjects is right, if the relationship between husband and wife is right, between father and children is right, and between master and slave is right, then the whole society will be happy. This is not unlike the constant relationships in Confucianism.

Moving forward, we can see that the family is the basic unit in society. It's the Nexus through which the individual first interacts with the larger society. And it's also generally through the family that the individual is introduced to religion. So course today, the family is a flashpoint for controversy. Who gets to decide what what constitutes a family? Who can be the partners who have children? And so forth. This is something we're very much talking about in society today.

Next, the family is reinforced by religion. And in turn, the family is an incubator for religious belief. The Pew Forum says that about 20% of Americans have no official religious affiliation. And we can assume that these atheists or non-theists will pass on that belief to their children. Just as religious people will also pass on their belief to their children.

The family is still one of the most important ways that religion is transmitted. Also, religion is an important model for divine care. In the Abrahamic religions, God is thought of in a fatherly role. And in Hinduism, the mother also becomes an important model for divine care. So the family supports religion not only by being an incubator for religious belief, but also by providing a model for the divine.

Just to take a little bit of a closer look at the relationship between religion and society, there's a kind of mutual feedback loop between religion and society. Society makes allowances for religion, giving things like tax breaks to religious organizations. Because it is perceived that religion has a pro-social social effect on society, that it makes people into better citizens. And religion in turn supports society by teaching people that they ought to obey the secular institutions. So we can say, then, that this is a mutually supportive symbiotic relationship between religion and society.

So far we've said that Aristotle was one of the first philosophers to thoroughly discuss the family as the foundational unit in society. Aristotle said that from the family comes the village and from the village comes the city, which was the highest unit of organization in Greek life. The family is the nexus, the foundational unit in which the individual first interacts with the larger society. And it is through the family that the individual is introduced to religion.

Sons and daughters tend to share the religion of their mothers and fathers. So the family supports religion in large part by providing members with a foundational belief system. The family plays a pivotal role in perpetuating religion. And vice versa, the society also supports religion because it is thought that religion has a pro-social function.

Religion and society thus have a symbiotic relationship-- a relationship in which both society and religion benefit. The family stabilizes and perpetuates religion. Religion also provides family roles for husbands, wives, and children.

Notes on "Religion and the Family"

Terms to Know


In biology, a relationship in which two organisms simultaneously serve each others' physical needs; any relationship in which two parties benefit from their interactions over a period of time.

Terms to Know
Symbiotic Relationship

In Biology, a relationship in which two organisms simultaneously serve each other’s physical needs; any relationship in which two parties benefit from their interactions over a period of time.