Understanding Religion

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Religion is a cultural system of behaviors, practices and ethics that most often relate to the belief in a personal god or other supernatural forces. It can include beliefs, worldviews, texts, prophecies, revelations and morals as well as rituals, prayer, meditation, holy places, symbols, trances and feasts.

Sociology and the Concept of Religion

There are many sociological perspectives that seek to understand the functions of religion in society. They are aimed at understanding how it gives meaning to life, reinforces social inequality and other problems, or teaches people to work for positive social change.

Functions of Religion

The function of religion is to give people a sense of belonging, to provide structure, to provide moral guidance and to offer hope. This is a major reason why many people go to church or another place of worship.

It also provides a social structure, which allows people to communicate and interact with others who share their beliefs. This is an important aspect of socialization (see Chapter 4 “Socialization”) and enables people to bond with each other in their communities.

Practicing Religion

A number of studies have shown that religion can be very helpful for people in maintaining mental health, especially when they feel that someone else is in charge or that there is some greater purpose to their lives. It can also help to create a sense of community and to reduce stress, anxiety and emotional variability in people who are practicing it.