Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on ReligionInstitute for Studies of Relgion
IJRR :: 2020 Volume 16 :: Article 7
2020 Volume 16, Article 7
Religion as Social Control: Parsons and Foucault

Author: James J. Chriss (Cleveland State University)

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In sociology and criminology, a consensus has emerged since the 1980s that there exist three basic forms of social control: informal, legal, and medical. However, Talcott Parsons developed a typology of social control that added a fourth type, namely religious control, which was needed to maintain consistency with his four-function analytical schema. In addition, since the 1980s Michel Foucault’s writings on social control have grown in influence in these fields. One particular aspect of Foucault’s work appears to be both complementary to and subsumable under Parsons’ grand AGIL schema. This is Foucault’s concept of pastoral power, whose four elements or dimensions can be understood as having functional significance for religious social control as developed by Parsons. The study of religion always brings to bear the problem of transcendence, and along the way I confront pertinent elements of idealist philosophy, and especially the phenomenology of Husserl, in this attempt to overcome some of the admitted difficulties in bringing together the thought of Parsons and Foucault.

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