Religion as a cultural system is the source of information that individuals draw from in order to lend meaning not only to their own lives as individuals, but also to their life together in society. It symbolize the world, by doing so, they provide those adhering to them with conviction, dress codes, lifestyles, norms of conduct, passions and inclinations.. Adhering to such a universe of symbols could be more rightly called believing.
The issue of explanations to relationship between this believing (religion) and society has engaged the attention of scholars for a long period of time. It would not be an exaggeration to note that this relationship between religion and society existed from times immemorial. Members of a community practice religion so as to find answers to questions relating to all walks of life. Therefore religion and its relationship with economy, polity, development, order, stability and human psychology is an indispensable to the society.
German sociologist Max Weber was the first to note the nexus between religion and economy. In the protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism, Weber sought to find out the relationship between religious ideals and the practical ethics of economic activities. He observed that religious beliefs under certain conditions would have a major influence on economic thought and behavior and claimed that reformed Protestantism by nurturing stronger preferences for hard work, saving, investment and the acquisition of wealth were essential to the rise of capitalism.
Like Max Weber, Alexis de Tocqueville sought to find out the nexus between religion and democracy. During his time, it was widely accepted amongst scholars that religion does not foster or support democracy. However, in his study, he established that how religion helped the growth of democratic spirit in America.
For Tocqueville religion is important counterweight to main threat democracy faced that is materialism. There was a strong tendency for people to become totally absorbed in the search of material possessions. For apt this people sacrifice their political freedom or (in a words of Rousseau social contract or general will). He called this attitude individualism which threats the democratic spirit of nation.
He thought one of the best ways to fight it was through religion (any kind of organized religion) which provides new set of values more important than material possessions and encouraged them to lift their eyes beyond the petty concerns of daily life and concentrate on higher goals. Virtually people not only preserve equality, tolerance and democratic quo but also maintain what (Talcott parsons called the value consensus of society).
By using the religious activities of the Australian Aborigines, Emile Durkheim a French sociologist also demonstrated that religion serves the law and order in the society by creating conditions for social wellbeing, self discipline, social cohesion and the continuity of cultures and tradition. He argues religion as constraining moral force as well as a creative one with external constraints. It provides people with the moral rules and norms which they comply with and cultural resources to which they depend upon.
In his magnum opus “The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life”. he was interested how religion functions socially in a society. Durkheim argued that beneath the irrationalism of both the most primitive and the most modern religions is their ability to satisfy real social and human needs. The rituals, the worship of icons, and the belief in supernatural beings “excite, maintain or recreate certain mental state that bring people together, provided the justification for society to exist beyond the mundane and before all else an impetus to action.
Apart from the religious clout on economical, political and on social system, religion provides some forms of emotional support related to a number of measures of psychological well-being. Those individuals who have reported higher spiritual strivings indicate greater purpose in life, better life satisfaction and higher level of well-being. The persons with stronger religious faith have also reported higher levels of life satisfaction greater personal happiness and fewer negative psychosocial consequences of traumatic life events.
Malinowski a British anthropologist is of the same view that the feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and so on that arose in the minds of people on such occasions were overcome by resorting to religious activities or the performance of certain rituals that would help get over such unsure feelings. Religion functioned here to essentially help one to regain one’s stability of mind and readjust to situations of emotional stress that had arisen.
Talcott Parsons , an American sociologist like Malinowski, view religion as “a mechanism for adjustments to such events, which hit life and jeopardize the normal life and religion is a means for restoring the normal pattern of life. He is of the view that religion provides certain guidelines for human action and standards against which man’s conduct can be evaluated. For him religion as the part of culture provides more general guidelines to conduct human behavior and allaying the tension and frustration, which could disrupt social order.
Moreover in reconstructing the meanings of social reality Berger and Luckmann write ‘throughout human history religion has played a decisive part in the construction and maintenance of universe. They argued that all the certainty is basically uncertain; it has a very precarious foundation. Things are real because people believe they are real. So for them religion is the most effective mechanism for the legitimation of universe meaning. Unlike other sources of legitimation, only religion links meaning with the Ultimate Reality.
However the philosopher of enlightenment period Jean-Jacques Rousseau untiringly supported the separation of the church from the state but not advocated the complete upend of religion in society. Despite had the view of separation one point is clear he believed that the interaction of the state with religion must be managed. Rousseau put it as if an individual is unwilling to conform to the general will, shall be constrained to do . Thus, it seems reasonable and logical that he would turn to religion for the source of cohesion and unification that is necessary for the most functional state, because religion in general, has immense power to make people conform to certain beliefs, practices, and lifestyles.
The question then becomes in light of the Max Weber, Talcott parsons, Malinowski, Tocqueville, Emile Durkheim and Rousseau: do religion and religious institutions need to be subdued to create chaos and confusion or aggrandizement its control over members of society in order to create order and stability?
—The author hails from Khadinyar Baramulla and is pursuing Masters in Sociology from Kashmir University. He can be reached at: Mohammadimran085@gmail.com.