The Role of Religion in Society

Since humans first began living on this planet, they have wondered where they came from, why they’re here, and what it all means. Religion is society’s attempt to answer these questions, and it provides followers with structure, a code of ethics, and a sense of purpose as well as the promise of an afterlife. For sociologists, the study of religion provides an opportunity to explore people’s values and beliefs as they relate to their culture.

Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx are among the founding social theorists who studied this relationship and developed what we today refer to as a sociological theory of religion. Their analysis focuses on the role that organized religious groups play in a society, the functions of religion, and how it influences people’s behavior.

There is a great deal of research that supports the idea that religion plays an important social role for individuals, families, and societies. Regular practice of religion can lead to healthy, stable family life and healthy marriages, improved school performance, higher standards of health and morality, reduced incidences of domestic abuse and crime, and increased levels of community cohesion and support for those in need.

Although some studies cite negative effects of religious belief and practice, the vast majority of research shows positive effects. While researchers may not know the exact reason for these benefits, it is possible that religiosity offers a unique set of tools to cope with the stresses of life, including a reverent awe of the universe, community, and history, and an emphasis on forgiveness and charity.