This article defines and describes the concept of religion as a belief system and social institution.
What is religion as a social institution?
Religion as a social institution refers to a unified system of belief system, practices, symbols, roles, rituals, etc. revolving around belief in supernatural powers. It acts as a framework for the daily social conduct of man, unites the believers, and provides meaning to life.
Functions of religion as a social institution
Religion is one of the social institutions. It plays a number of important functions to ensure the smooth running of a society. These functions are discussed in the lines given below:
1. Meaning and purpose of life
Religion gives meaning and purpose to life in matters the science cannot tell us. It acts as a source of hope in times of difficulty and illness. All religions on this planet earth attach a purpose with the creation of the universe and men. They also provide guidance and instructions as to how to align one’s life with the divine purpose of the creation.
2. Social unity and stability
Religion acts as a force of reinforcing social unity and stability by giving a common belief system and its practice. The shared belief system acts as an important agent of socialization. Similarly, a common practice of beliefs strengthens social cohesion among the members of society.
3. Agent of social control
Religion is an agent of social control and thus strengthens social order through teaching moral behavior. For example, religion considers robbery and dacoity moral crimes with zero tolerance. The belief that God sees men’s actions and will hold them accountable on the day of judgment. Abstaining robbery and hard work will result from this belief thus ensuring social control in society.
4. Psychological well-being
Religious faith and practice can enhance psychological well-being by being a source of comfort to people in times of distress. Religion encourages people to intermingle, share their woes and happiness thus enhancing social interaction in places of worship. This increased social interaction helps reduce mental pressure, tension, etc.
5. Positive Social change
Religion also acts as a source of motivation. It stimulates man to strive for a positive social change. The virtue development/character of a man as a responsible social animal can put him/her at a central stage in rights mobilization movements, etc.