Religion is a large and influential part of the world’s societies. For most of the history of humankind, it was also an important element of culture and politics. In many places around the globe, it still is. Religions provide people with a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, a way to handle the tragedies and difficulties that life throws at them, and a framework for resolving these situations. They offer hope and encouragement in the face of loss, suffering and death. In addition, they often have developed a wide variety of rites and rituals, holy books and sacred days and sites, as well as organizations and institutions to support their members.
The word’religion’ is derived from the Latin’religio’ which means devotion, and a belief in some kind of supernatural being. Religions vary widely from one to the next, in their beliefs and practices, but they have a strong impact on culture and society. They can be seen in the way that music and art, food and drink, clothing, and ways of living together are influenced by religions, as well as festivals and celebrations.
In the 19th century, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber developed a social theory which suggests that religion provides a basis for morality and social control in societies. He argues that it binds communities together (social cohesion), promotes consistency in behaviours (social control), and gives strength for the coping with life’s transitions and tragedies (meaning and purpose).
More recently, scholars like Clifford Geertz have offered a different approach to thinking about religion. He offers a paradigm shift, asking scholars to examine the assumptions baked into the concept and see how they can distort our understanding of religious systems.