Two Minutes with Dr. Yahya: Theories of Studying Societies
Hasan A. Yahya, Professor of Sociology
President of the Arab American Encyclopedia-USA
There are three main approaches or paradigms to deal with any issue (social, psychological, economic or political). And there are may be tens of sub-approaches spring from the main ones. In sociology we learned that these approaches to study society and everyday activities may be one who approach society as functional bodies structured to induce stability and order. Where individuals or groups or organizations of societies cooperate together as parts like a human body. As opposite to the first approach, it looks to society as competing organs to survive, therefore, it looks for division competing with each other in terms of having or not having basis, or racial or religious differences, in what they call it inequality, exploitation and interest conflict. A third approach is to look at the meaning of actions among people by studying norms, values, and symbols of any given society, group, organization, or nation, and compare it with other societies, groups, or nations. In all these approaches followers of each approach reach a conclusion and gives certain suggestions to correct what is going wrong in a society or group or organization or nation or even studying the globe in terms of life satisfaction, happiness, and well-being.
All approaches may have the same research methodology to study a phenomenon. I mean using scientific rules of research, from making propositions, to hypothesis, to formulating and defining concepts and measurement to data collection to analysis of data and testing the findings. In order to recommend according to their research findings possible suggestions to solve the problem under study. They all fall in the same fallibility and false assumptions they made in terms of priority of such research projects and limited research interest which is controlled by certain interest groups to control people attitudes or land resources.
The first paradigm, the functional structural approach usually divided into two sub-approaches. One looks for the good things in society to enhance it, and manage it, the second is to look at the wrong practices (in groups, organizations, and nations, etc.) to understand it, test its propositions, and suggest possible solutions to correct it through policy makers in the society. The assumption underline this approach is that the phenomenon exists, and need enhancing by correction or better management in peaceful means. The second paradigm, the conflict approach has also assumptions to correct a phenomenon, to change it and create a new phenomenon better than the existed one. In other words, it rejects the status quo and study how to change it in any possible means. The third paradigm, however, have certain assumptions about any study belong to it (In sociology, anthropology, psychology, or politics) in order to understand the meaning of the phenomenon to a certain group in the society. It is an approach closer to functional-structural theory than to the second conflict theory. For example, it study the meaning of cross, or crescent or the snake symbols used by groups or nations in order to understand it.
In studying religion, the matter is so difficult, but using certain approach gives us some characteristics of researchers (and intellectual scholars) and how their finding will be directed. In all, critical thinking using intellectual abilities is a common characteristic to all. If we consider religion as a functional institute in a the structure of society or group like any other part of the group (like military, civilian, medical, or engineering), then we have to study the relationships between belief and progress as well as related to other social phenomenon such as poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, inequality, lack of political participation, women position, and the like. Because the body is not only the head, but the soul, the arms, the legs and even the sexual organs. Religion in this case is an attitude learned not created be genes. If an attitude may change through several means of changing time and space and social development, then religion has to also to change. Under conflict theory, however, religion is rejected according to those who calls for changing the status quo politically by revolution. Religion will not be the main factor to study societies, groups, organizations or nations. Other factors (social, political, and anthropological) will have priority to be studied than religion. Taking this assumption as deficiency to conflict theory or not, it is similar to research directions and financial support deficiency under functional-structural theory.
Under symbolic interaction, the third approach, researcher look at the meaning of belief, prayer, God, marriage, and family ways of rearing children among different peoples, food and dietary habits among groups, and nations. Without attacking religion or its components. The approach decides whither we look for correct signs and practices or to wrong signs and practices in the social, political, psychological, and anthropological areas. www.hasanyahya.com