Understanding the Function of Religion


Religion is a category of social institutions, a complex of beliefs and practices that are shared by different groups of people. The term religion names the common characteristics of these phenomena, such as belief in a supernatural being or force and rituals of worship.

There is a lot of variety in how members of various religions define their connections to their specific traditions. Some believe that their beliefs are central to who they are, while others are more drawn to the culture and community of the religion than to its beliefs and rituals. Still, most of us have some kind of religious connection to the world around us.

A number of scholars, including a few in the field of anthropology, have attempted to explain religion by exploring its function as a source of social cohesion and stability. In particular, Emile Durkheim emphasized that religion serves these purposes whether or not a person identifies with a specific set of religious beliefs. He argued that religions help people to unite into social communities and to make moral choices about how they should live their lives.

This is an important perspective in sociological thinking on religion today. As Dr Kim points out, “Religion is a great way of bringing people together in a sense of solidarity.”

Another significant function of religion is to enhance the capacity of individual human beings to cope with their own and their family’s suffering and distress. Scientists have found that people who are active in their religious traditions have a higher degree of psychological well-being, as they are able to cope with stressful situations more effectively.

Some researchers have also found that religious practice promotes a longer lifespan for some individuals. This has been demonstrated, for example, in the study of aging in the United States.

A third function of religion is that it strengthens the bond between individual human beings and the community they live in. This was the most important insight that Emile Durkheim drew about religion in his work on social psychology. In his study, he showed that church attendance is an important predictor of marital stability and happiness and that religious people tend to have more supportive friends than nonreligious individuals.