Thursday, August 20, 2009

Religion, its Origin and Functions

Religion is found in every society and the people believe in religion in one form or the other. Accordingly there is no society, even the so-called secular society which does not believe in a type of religion. When the people fail in their efforts for achieving their targets; they believe in super-natural power and lean towards religion and God.
Religion Defined:
Religion has been defined differently by our sociologists. According to MacIver and Page, “Religion, as we understand the term, implies a relationship not merely between man and man, but also between man and some higher power. Hence, it normally involves a sanction which may be called suprasocial, whether it is primitive ghost fear or the present worth of God or the penalties of an after life of tenture in hell, or merely the sense of being out of tune with the infinite when its supposed laws are disobeyed”. According to Ogburn, “Religion is attitude towards super-human powers”. Christopher Dawson says, “Whenever and wherever man has a sense of dependence on external powers which are conceived as mysterious as and higher than man’s own, there is religion, and the feeling of awe and self abasement with which man is filled in the presence of such powers is essentially a religious emotion, the root of worship and prayer”. According to A. W. Green, “Religion is a system of belief and symbolic practices and objects governed by faith rather than by knowledge, which relates man to an unseen super-natural realm beyond the known and beyond the controllable”. Gillin and Gillin say “The social field of religion may be regarded as including those emotionalised beliefs prevalent in a social group concurring the supernatural plus crest and behaviour, material objects and symbols associated with such beliefs”. Durkheim says, “Religion is a unified system of belief and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden”.
From these definitions it becomes clear that there is some superior and super-natural power in every religion. Religion also makes us believe in God, though there are Godless religions as well. It also appears that spirituality and virtue are two salient features of religion. It also lays stress on rites, rivals and ceremonies. It is means and methods of preserving valuable virtues of life.
Origin of Religion:
In Sociology, we are more concerned with sociological importance of religion and less with its origin. But since religion is very much deep-rooted in society, therefore it is essential to discuss its origin as well. Like definitions of religion there is also much divergency of opinion about the origin of the religion. There are very many theories about occurrence of religion. In the beginning it was believed that religion had hypothetical beginning. Tylor and Spencer make us believe that send in the central idea of religion. The soul is considered more active than the body. It can travel more distances and so on. Gradually soul began to be considered a spirit, a good or evil genius or even a deity. In the words of Kingsley Davis, “Whereas the souls of the men were thought to govern the external world the flow of rivers, the movement of stars, the germination of plants, the reproduction of animal etc”. Max Mutter agreed with Tylor about his concept of origin of religion but laid more stress on death as the source rather than the dreams. According to him source of religion was influence of external nature of man. According to him sensation of infinite is the source for the derivation of religion. He, however, believed that religion arises only when these natural forces are no longer represented in abstract form but are transformed into personal agents, spiritual beings or gods. But these evolutionary theories have now come under critics but in spite of that these are quite prevalent. According to Kingsley Davis, “The evolutionary school indulged not only in fruitless search for origins but also in rationalistic mode of explanation. It regarded social institutions as deliberate conscious adjustments to the environment. Religious beliefs, however, are obviously non-rational”.
William Robertson Smith in Scotland, K. Durkheim in France, A. R. Redeliffe Brown in England, and Max Webber in Germany laid stress on Functional Theory of Religion. According to them, as Kingsley Davis says, “Hence in contrast to the evolutionists, these scholars did not explain social institutions in terms of their historical origins but in terms of the part they play in satisfying social needs… Though closely related to the needs of a society, they are not synonymous and indeed are sometimes in conflict with them”. David Hume and Max Mutter are of the view that religion originated in fear.
In fact it is very difficult to trace the origin of religion in any single institutions or factor. Fear, impersonal character of nature, belief in supernatural power, rites and ceremonies etc. all combined together are responsible for the origin of religion. Difficulty in tracing religion primarily arises because it is as old as man himself. Being an old institution various theories have developed around it and if these are supplemented with each other, combined together, some origin can be found.
Social Functions of Religion:
In Sociology we are concerned with the role of religion in society. Religion has a very powerful and strong hold over society. No society can afford to ignore religion nor can it play against religious sentiments of the people. Religion touches every aspect of human society. In all societies it has upheld moral and spiritual values of life. True religion promotes morality. Religion promotes inner values of man which is of greatest concern to Sociology. Religion isolates good from the evil. It enhances self-importance and brings social value closer to each other. It also rationalises human sufferings. Some of the important social functions of religion may be discussed as under:
1. Religion and Education: Religion is responsible for the spread of education. Early education, both in the East as well as West, has been through religion. Churches, temples and mosques have been centres of religion. Buddhists gave us Taxila and Nalanda universities.
2. Religion and Frustration: In our complex society each individual is worried. His worries are individually social, political and economic. He has some targets before him to achieve, which he always cannot, with the result that failures create a sense of frustration among the people, which in turn develop a negative attitude in society. It is religion which checks negative attitude and outlook. When the people get frustrated religion comes forward to soothe them. It comes to encourage and cheer, though in a different manner. Thus negative attitude and frustration is considerably reduced by religion.
3. Religion and Benevolence: True religion always wants the people to become benevolent, it desires that the helpless should be helped and the rich should come forward to help the poor and the needy. It desires that those in difficulty should be helped at all costs.
4. Religion and Self-Importance: Religion enhances individual’s prestige and creates a sense of self-importance. It is through religion alone that a person feels that he can come in unison with God and that human beings are the only creatures which can purify soul and do many noble deeds.
5. Religion and Inequality: All religions believe in human equality. There is no high and low in the eyes of religion. Doors of worship are open to all. If there are any systems of inequality these are man made and against the principles of true religion. One of the significant features of religion is that it has always encouraged alms-giving. It implies that the rich should economically assist the poor and thus economic inequality should be reduced to the extent possible. Christianity, Islam and Hinduism all have stood for alms-giving.
6. Religion and Social Values: Religion has always encouraged social values. It has denounced anti-social activities. It has always stressed that one should not tell a lie, or deceive, or cheat and be unfaithful. It has stressed that no one should indulge in anti-social activities and that social limits should be willingly and happily accepted.
Disservices of Religion:
Religion as a social factor has considerably contributed in the integration of society but at the same time it cannot be denied that it has done considerable disservice to the society as well. Some of the important disservices done to the society may briefly be discussed as under:
1. Religion and Social Progress: In many societies religion has contributed in the process of social progress. It discouraged such social reforms as widow re-marriage, ban on child marriage or sati system. It has also not accepted willingly such concepts as family planning. Many scientific and technological discoveries were also not accepted by the church. On the other hand religion has stood by the side of slavery. It has favoured private property which means exploitation. Caste system and untouchability were favoured by religion. Similarly we find that indirectly it has preached social and economic inequality.
2. Religion and Hatred: In the name of religion hatred was created among the individuals and societies. In the course of hatred there were many persecutions. In England the Roman Catholics and Protestants created hatred among each other and in the name of religion there were persecutions. In India there were also persecutions in the name of religion. One finds that in name of religion most shameless acts of misdeeds were committed during the time of partition of the country in 1947. Millions were up-rooted and forced to migrate from one part of the country to the other. Similarly such an atmosphere was created in which two great communities could not live together and all this was done in the name of religion.
3. Religion and Subjection: In the name of religion the people are subjected. The poor are taught and made to realise that they are there to be subjected to the authority of the powerful. They are made to live life of poverty. It makes them realise that some are born to rule and others to be ruled and that all this is the will of the nature and no efforts should be made to alter this supreme will of God. Religion therefore teaches subjection.
4. Religion and Class: Religion has always created a separate class which holds itself as the custodian of faith. In England the Pope and Clergy, in India Brahmans became a class themselves and thus class distinction and conscious was created in the society.
5. Religion and Corruption: Religion has, unfortunately given birth to corruption. Who does not know that priestly class gradually became corrupt. In England one of the causes of Reformation was corruption which had become part of religion of that day. In India Buddhism and Jainism raised voices against corruption in Brahmanism. There is perhaps no religion which has not been polluted by corruption.
6. Religion and Economy: Religion has also adversely affected economy. It creates a class of people who live on the labour of others. These peoples are not willing to work and thus a class of lazy people is created, which does not contribute in national wealth and production. The churches and temples have immensely amassed wealth which cannot be used for the welfare of the society as a whole. Its buried wealth is lying purposeless and useless. If this wealth is brought under circulation, the nation would have been gainer by and large. Thus religion has adversely influenced economy.
7. Religion and Fatalism: Religion makes people fatalist. It makes them believe that with their labour they cannot do anything. Accordingly religion makes the people fell contented with what they are. It teaches them not to struggle because their struggle is no likely to yield any fruitful results.
Conclusion: We may thus conclude by saying that religion very significantly contributes in our social life. In spite of the fact that it has done disservice to the society as well, yet it cannot be denied that without religion, in one form or the other, society cannot exist. It has contributed in social integration. It cannot be denied that it is not the religion which is bad but what is bad is religious dogmaticism and bigotism.


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