Religion is the cultural system of beliefs, behaviors, and ethics that people use to make sense of their world. It varies greatly across cultures, but it often forms the basis of political and legal systems around the world.
Sociological Perspectives on Religion
The study of religion is a major field of sociology. Social scientists use a variety of perspectives to understand how religion serves society, how it reinforces inequality and other problems, and how it is used by individuals to shape their own lives.
One approach, called the symbolic interactionist approach, focuses on how individual experiences of religion change over time. It explains that religious beliefs and practices become sacred only after they are regarded as such by individual members of a society.
Another approach, called the conflict perspective, focuses on how people use their experiences of religion to motivate them to act for social justice. It explains that religion is the result of a combination of factors including: interpersonal communication, group identity, and social cohesion.
Ideally, religion gives meaning and purpose to life, reinforces social unity and stability, serves as an agent of social control, promotes psychological and physical well-being, and may motivate people to work for positive social change (Emerson, Monahan, & Mirola 2011).
The study of religion is important because it helps you understand how different cultures perceive their world. You can also study it to gain a better understanding of your own culture, your friend’s culture, or the cultures of the people you work with.