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Religion's Function In Society

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Religion has many functions within a society, both social and psychological. According to Ferraro (308) three such social functions are social control, conflict resolution, and intensifying group solidarity. Religion seems to help maintain a social order. It appears to do this by encouraging what a given society deems acceptable behavior and discouraging socially inappropriate behavior. "Every religion, regardless of the form it takes, is an ethical system that prescribes proper way of behaving." (Ferraro 308) This social order of rewards and punishment

is reinforced when backed by supernatural authority. Thus one's neighbor may be exorcized from his or her community when a behavior is seen as socially unacceptable or inappropriate. Examples of this in the Jewish-Christian community would be the breaking of the Ten Commandments such as stealing, committing adultery, or murdering.

Another social function of religion is to "enable people to express their common identity in an emotionally charged environment" ( Ferraro 308). Group solidarity is intensified for those who practice it. When members of a religious group come together to practice religious beliefs, they often bond by participating in other non-religious activities as well. (Ferraro 308) People find religion an easy way to identify with one another. Religion helps to form community, schools, and even government. People who are 'more' religious tend to hold more conservative attitudes on sexuality and personal honesty. They are also likely to hold more conservative attitudes about family life, being more likely, for instance, to support the use of corporal

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punishment in disciplining children. Strongly religious people also tend to be more accepting and satisfied with their lives and marriages. This is perhaps because they do not question what is unknown. It is perhaps merely accepted upon faith. (Brinkerhoff, White, Ortega 295-305)

Religion also plays the role of reducing stress and frustrations that often lead to social conflict. (Ferraro 308) For example, in some societies people attribute famine, disease, or other natural disasters to the evil deeds of people in other villages. By practicing religious rituals to protect themselves from these evildoers, such disruptions as war might be avoided. (Ferraro 308)

Religion also serves certain psychological functions in society. Religion can be psychologically comforting, because it helps to explain the unexplainable. Religion provides answers to such questions as, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Answers are based on supernatural authority. (Ferraro 309)

Religion helps people cope with stress and anxiety that often accompanies illness, deaths, and other such misfortune. People in all religions perform religious rituals to ask supernatural beings to exhibit control over that which they have no control. (Ferraro 309-310)

In cultures worldwide mankind creates ways to give life's experiences a higher meaning. "Anthropologist use the term worldview to refer to the results of such interpretive efforts..." (Lavenda, Schultz 66) "Worldviews establish a framework that highlight certain significant domains of social experience while downplaying others. Religion is a worldview in which many people personify cosmic forces and devise ways to deal with them that resemble the ways to deal with powerful human beings in their society." (Lavenda, Schultz 66)

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Myths are an important necessary feature of the personification of cosmic forces. Every society no matter how small or complex contains myths that portray religious truths, as well as providing explanations for the other wise inexplicable. Myths also contribute to the validation of essential beliefs, values, and behavior patterns of a culture. A culture's mythology is closely connected to its moral and social order. "...The importance of myth from an anthropological perspective is that the narrative reflects, supports, and legitimizes patterns of thought and behavior." (Ferraro 307)

The myth of origin is one of the most common forms of myth, and provides answers to questions about how life began. These myths tell of the origins of the gods themselves, and how the universe and human life were created. Religion, a worldview, relies heavily on the way people personify their gods. (Lavenda, Schultz 66-76) Religion provides its followers with moral rules. The god(s) "may monitor human behavior and send punishment to those who violate moral rules, but if human beings approach them in the proper manner, they may use their power to confer benefits." (Lavenda, Schultz 66) An example of this is the popular Christian myths of heaven and hell. If one follows the morals set by Christianity and believes in Jesus Christ, he or she will be rewarded in the also mythological afterlife, heaven. However, if one goes against the Christian morals and the church, he or she will be damned eternally in the pits of hell.

A ritual is a repetitive social act. (Lavenda, Schultz 70) People perform religious rituals as a way



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