Religion is a system of beliefs with symbols and rituals with or without god (Giddens 2009). Religion has given people cultural meaning and has defined the norms and values. The role of religion can be seen in both the personal and social aspects throughout history. People mentally needed the religion, not only due to the faith and rituals, but also because it was the only exhaustive system which has included all sorts of rules. By transition from renaissance to industrialisation and the start of modern era, and with assistance of the new findings of science, human’s awareness has developed. Therefore, the modern human has become brave enough to break the religious tabos. Then, holly books and fear of hell have been replaced with civil law and human right. So, the role of religion has decreased during the timer and religions have retreated back to personal life, and most of western governments become secular. It is often suggested that religion arose from the fear of the unpredictability of nature. Primitive humans have had to live in rough condition in the nature. They did not know how to overcome flood, famine, thunder and storm. Their curiosity brought them to ask questions which have resulted to science and technology, but it seems that it was not enough at the time. They needed something to make them calm and confident. They believed some supernatural powers control the nature. So, they assume they can connect to the powers with some rituals. Many different form of primitive religion have known with or without one up to several gods and goddess. For instance, totemism was one of them. Totem usually was a planet or animal which was sacred and people did not have the right to eat or use them. Totem could be the symbol of a clan and the reason of the respect was a combination of superstitions and reality such as protection the environment (Durkheim 1976). The function of religion in the past was varied from determining norms, values, rituals and political and economic rules for the social life. As Durkheim (Cited in Giddens 2009) pointed out it can see the main role of religion in the important events of life such as birth, marriage, and death. For example the rituals of mourning and funeral are designed to show group solidarity and emotional supporting for the relatives. Religion has guided people in their personal life. Different advices in ethic, family relations, even ontology have been presented in most religions. The certain answers for questions such as, when did the world start? What will we be after death? Or, moral advices about forbidden behaviour such as stealing and murder, which keep the society safe. Therefore, religion defines what exactly must do or not to do, not only at the personal life but also in social life. Thus, religions have argued they rescue people from any doubt and misdirection. Religion could be the reason and intensive for a soldier to be killed or kill someone else. In absence of the civil law, all religions, however they might be totally different with each other, set the relation among and within the macro and micro structures in the society. During his studies about world religions, Weber (Cited in Gerth, H. & Mill, C. Wright 1977) divided the 6 main religions into 2 main groups; the religions which have come from the east (Confucian, Hinduism, Buddhist) , and the religions which have their origins in the Middle East (Christian, Islam and Judaism). Middle Eastern religions say human is responsible for his/her actions and behaviours. This group of religions has more rules for economic relations in the society, or interferes in politic by giving legitimisation to the leader/king. As Weber (Cited in Gerth, H. & Mill, C. Wright 1977), called them salvation religions, and focused on the role of Protestant Christian on industrialism. He says that humans are going to interpret the world with rationality, and protestant Christian is the only religion which has made it possible. On the other hand, the eastern religions have an emphasis on cooperating with the world, instead of overcoming on it, and focus on spiritual issues instead of material issues. The other-worldly religions, as Weber called them, in china and India have made obstacles to achieve an industrial society due to different values (Giddens 2009), while they had high level of civilisation thousands years ago. In contrast with Weber, some sociologists believe that the general idea of religion (even protestant Christian) prevented public awareness and consciousness. Feuerbach realised religion as the main cause of alienation (Giddens 2009). Marx supported him and said: “the religion is the opium of the masses” (cited in Marxist Internet Archive). Medieval in Europe might be the main reason which can show the encounter between religion and rationality. What happened to Galileo was an unforgettable example of the conflict between science and religion. The problem has continued by the Darwin’s theory, and it still can be traced in developing countries. The changes in the roles of religion were essential by changing the societies, but the religious leaders definitely resist against the change, which would cause to dismiss their power. Lately, some religious leaders have shown more flexibility about new ideas such as gay marriage. So, the leaders might stay popular by this approach. There are still some countries which their rules have determined based on their religion. Recently, the contrast between the rules and human right has become a controversial issue among social activists. For example according to Islam in Saudi Arabia women do not have right to drive, in Iran they have wear Islamic clothes. Lashing and stoning are in legal in these countries, which are traditional Islamic punishments. In the modern and postmodern era rituals can be seen in different forms. For example in Britain some rituals such as royal ceremonials perform to keep the traditions and monarchy while in the Soviet Union traditions had replaced with new rituals for new ideology which were performing in the Red Square in Moscow (Giddens 2009). The rationality, which Weber had assumed that postmodern human achieved it, cannot be seen in the contemporary. Nowadays, brands and celebrities are new religion as they can determine values for the public. Since people spend time and money to posse a specific brand goods or meet a music/cinema star. It seems the same alienation can be found among people 21st century in some new forms of religions. In general, religions had a big role to define the world and determine the cultural meaning. They could convince the public to follow certain rules and have made the cultures. It can be seen whenever religion do not interfere with macro social issues such as politic and economy, it do not make big problems. After, industrialism culture and social conventions has made by some factors other than religion. So, religion has missed its main role and influencing on culture. It seems missionary has replaced with advertising industry, and the owners of capital instead of prophets can determine new values. .
Durkheim, E 1976, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (translated by Joseph Ward Swain): Unwin Brothers Limited Old Working. Gerth, H. & Mill, C. Wright 1977, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, New York: Oxford University Press. Giddens, A 2009, Sociology, 6th edition, UK, Polity Press
Marx, K 1843, Marxist Internet Archive, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Viewed 22 August 2013,