The Role of Religion in Society

Religion is the set of beliefs and practices that help people make sense of their lives. It is also the source of comfort and hope for billions of people. The social theorist Emile Durkheim emphasized the fact that whether or not specific religious beliefs are true, religion serves important functions in society. These include providing maps of time and space, enabling people to recognize (and perhaps accept) the many limitations that stand across the project of their lives, and offering comforts to the poor and those wearied by the uncertainty of reason.

The practice of religion includes many things such as chanting, worship, sacrificial behavior and prayer. These behaviors can be done humbly, scrupulously, lovingly, prayerfully, ecstatically or ritualistically. For some, the practice is a means to become closer to God. For others it is a way to connect with their community.

Totally secular approaches to public policy, psychotherapy or education ignore the role that religion plays in most of our lives. This is a serious mistake, as religion provides two-thirds of the framework for the world that we live in. It is time for us to understand this and give religion the respect it deserves. Religions should spend less time talking about their God and more time serving people, especially those who don’t share their religion. In doing so, they would operate more like non-profits and provide the kind of social capital that helps people navigate the challenges of their lives.

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