Religion has many functions for society, such as giving meaning and purpose to life, reinforcing social unity and stability, serving as an agent of social control, promoting psychological and physical well-being, and motivating people to work for positive social change. Ideally, religion also gives people a sense of belonging to a larger community and provides social support and solidarity.
Historically, there have been several different perspectives on the nature and function of religion in society. These include the functional, conflict, and symbolic interactionist perspectives.
Sociological perspectives that consider religion as a social phenomenon aim to understand the functions it serves, its inequality and other problems, and the role it plays in our daily lives (Emerson, Monahan, & Mirola 2011). Table 17.1 “Theory Snapshot” summarizes what these perspectives say about the nature of religion.
Functions of Religion
The most fundamental function of religion is to give meaning and purpose to life. This helps people to feel that they are part of something bigger, and may even help them deal with their own struggles or suffering. It is also an agent of social control, promoting moral behavior and preventing people from breaking the law.
It can also help people develop a sense of community and belonging, and can provide social coherence for people with different ideas. Sacred texts and teachings are great sources of wisdom, which can help guide the development of societies and cultures.
Studies have shown that religious practice can benefit individuals and help them to live healthy, long lives. It can also help them to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
Moreover, regular religious practice can improve personal physical health, reducing the risk of many diseases. It also has a strong influence on the way we think and behave, helping us to become more conscious of our own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. It can also help people find meaning in their lives and lead them to make better decisions.