This theory holds that religion is just as important a feature of modern society as it is of traditional society, but it takes different forms and possesses different characteristics. While compatible with functionalist theories, this theory does not depend upon them, because it concerns the historical transformation of religion, whereas religion's functions may be constant. Among the most influential variants of this perspective is the pattern variable theory of Parsons and Shils.

According to them, five socio-cultural dimensions of variation together describe modernization, applicable to religion as to all other major institutions of society. With the traditional end of the dimensions on the left, the pattern variables are:

1. Affectivity - Affective Neutrality

2. Self-orientation - Collectivity-orientation

3. Particularism - Universalism

4. Ascription - Achievement

5. Diffuseness - Specificity

Modern religion, as defined by the right end of these dimensions, is emotionally cooler than traditional religion, oriented toward very large social collectivities such as all humanity rather than the self or clan, promulgating universalistic norms and hopes of salvation, placing responsibility for moral choice in the individual, and differentiated from other institutions of the society. Universal norms but individual achievement illustrate the fact that these are intended to be five dimensions, rather than aspects of one, implying that prior to the completion of modernization some societies and their religions might be mixed types.

A recent critique of this theory, which grants that it has been exceedingly influential, comes from Nils Gilman (2003).


a.) Gilman, Nils. 2003. Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
b.) Parsons, Talcott, and Edward A. Shils (eds.). 2001. Toward a General Theory of Action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Related Concepts  
The following Concepts can potentially capture some of the ideas of this theory.

The state of being without effective rules for living.

A breakdown at the level of the entire society, which Emile Durkheim measured in terms of economic instability.

Strain between the norms and values of a society (Robert K. Merton), as experienced by the individual, which could be measured by items about frustration in achieving conventional life goals.

Religious Behavior

Type and amount of religious actions an individual exhibits. Closely tied to the concept of religiosity, religious behavior focuses upon what individuals are doing in relation to religion specifically. The most commonly used measure of religious behavior is church or worship service attendance. Research shows that the act of attending alone exerts a powerful influence on individuals. Another religious behavior that can be operationalized is contributions toward religious activities or entities. Self-reported religious experience can also be used as a measure of religious behavior. This measure is less well-known and as such utilized less in research.

Religious Belief

On its most basic level religious belief refers to views toward the supernatural. Usually paired in research with measures of religious tradition and religious behavior, measuring religious belief allows researchers to gain insight into what respondents are thinking concerning the supernatural. One of the most common religious belief measures is whether or not respondents believe in God. A new strain of research is focusing not just on if individuals believe in God, but specifically what they believe God to be like. The images of God variables are used to create various scales that have proven to be highly predictive of attitudes and behavior. Probably the most common religious belief measure used in religious research is biblical literalism. This variable grouped with religious tradition and religious behavior is a common set of religious controls for any statistical model. Beyond these religious beliefs lie a less-used list of other beliefs. Belief in Hell, Jesus, salvation, Satan, angels, demons, heaven, or the "end times" provide a rich palate of possible research opportunities dealing with religious belief.

Social Disorganization

A breakdown of society marked by high rates of migration and by sparce or fragmented networks of social relations.

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