Functions of Religion in Society

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In its simplest form any religion may be seen as a belief system. This system may affect values, laws, customs, rites and general behaviour patterns. Religion may affect the individual, group, community or nation. It may play a peripheral or an integral role within society. Its structure may be as complex as any large organisational bureaucracy or as simple as a two-way relationship between a person and object/subject of worship.

The function of religion in a society is often to explain to the people in that society their primal origins, the nature of life, the function and aims of life and reasons for living. To put it simply, to answer the question "why am I here"? In the past religion has been used as a control mechanism, a way of achieving order, of delegating roles and responsibilities. From a sociologist's point of view the "Ten Commandments" given to Moses are a set of behavioural rules that would bring order and harmony to the society that would allow the society to function in an organised and systematic manner. Religion may dictate a set of acceptable standards and those who wish to remain in that society must adhere to those standards, within acceptable limits. For those who are unable to do this, for whatever reason, there is the option of leaving the society or of beginning / belonging to, another religion. Fundamental to all religions is the concept of a relationship. The relationship may involve one or more persons, it may be physical and or spiritual and it may be dynamic or static, real or imagined. Within the ambit of this relationship words such as 'devotion, enlightenment, respect, faith, sacred, holy, worship, solace, sacrifice mystical and charismatic' are used. Communication channels may be formal and organised as through a priest / priestess, witchdoctor / shaman, where there is a set time and place when religious activity can take place. Communication may be informal where the individual has a 'direct line' at any time, and any...
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