Religion, in some form or another, is a universal aspect of human society. It can be a source of meaning and purpose, a source of morality and ethics, and a basis for social cohesion. It is a major force in the development of knowledge, the arts, and technology. It can also be a source of conflict and violence, particularly where there are ideas or perceptions of injustice, real or alleged.
Sociologists have various approaches to analyzing the role of religion in a culture and society. Emil Durkheim was the first sociologist to study religion from an empirical perspective. He argued that religion is a system of common values that binds people together, promotes behaviour consistency, and offers strength during life’s transitions and tragedies.
Other sociologists, like Max Weber, have studied religion from a functionalist viewpoint. They have emphasized the economic and political benefits of religion, such as the support it provides for the poor and disadvantaged, its effect on morality, and its power to organize societies.
Some sociologists, such as Edward Burnett Tylor, have viewed religion as a belief in spiritual beings. This is a broad definition that does not exclude many religious peoples and it can be misleading in terms of the actual activities undertaken by believers. A more helpful approach is one that focuses on the actions and attitudes of individuals and the way these relate to the world around them. This approach is often called a phenomenological view of religion.