Religion is an important concern of man. It is universal for everyone. This article will define religion, trace its origins and development, and examine its functions and significance in the modern world.

Definition of Religion

Religion is a matter of belief. It is nothing but man’s belief in supernatural or superhuman forces. Though religion is a universal thing, it is understood differently by people. A few definitions of religion are given below:

According to Durkheim, “Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things.”

According to Frazer, “Religion is the belief in powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of nature and human life.”

According to MacIver and Page, “Religion is, as we understand the term implies, a relationship not merely between man and man but also between man and some higher power.”

Origin and Development of Theory

The origin way of religion is very mysterious. Still, sociologists, Social Anthropological scientists, in general, have made a lot of efforts to explain the origin and development of religion. Theories about these are discussed below:

Religion: A Guide to its Definition, History, and Functions
Religion: A Guide to its Definition, History, and Functions
  1. Fetishism: Fetishism has been defined both as religion and as magic. In origin, it is the most supernatural mysterious power for good or evil. Hence, fetishism is the adoration of material things because of their mysterious power. Most fetishes are inanimate objects called objects by some primitives Mana.
  2. Animism: The theory of animism is the work of E.B. Taylor and may be found in his primitive culture, first published in 1871. According to Taylor, Animism is a belief in the spirit of the dead. Animism is a belief in the existence of some supra-physical being within the body of every living being. This supernatural being survives even after the collapse of the physical being within the body of every living being. This supernatural being survives even after the collapse of the physical body in which it is contained. After the death of a person, this so-called supernatural being is freed from physical limitations and can wander anywhere without being restricted by time and space. It is normally found in some forms of Hinduism, Buddhism, Pantheism and Neopaganism.
  3. Ancestor worship: Ancestor worship describes, in a broad and loose sense, a variety of religious beliefs and practices concerned with the spirits of dead persons regarded as relatives, some of whom may be mythical. Among the civilizations of Asia, the classic examples of ancestor worship have been in China and Japan.
  4. Nature worship: Nature worship is a vague term used to describe various religious, spiritual and devotional practices in a broad spectrum of spiritual traditions. There are many forms of nature. They are-
    • Fire worship
    • Tree worship
    • Animal worship
    • Star worship etc.
  5. Monotheism: Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only God. Monotheism is characteristic of the Bahai’s faith, Christianity, Druzism, Islam, Samaritamism, Sikhism and Hinduism. Monotheism is the belief in a singular God, in contrast to polytheism, the belief in several deities.
  6. Totemism: Totemism is an extension of fetishism. “A totem is a species or plant; or a natural object or phenomenon or the symbol of any of these which signifies distinguishing features of a human group vis-à-vis other groups, similarly represented, in the same society.”- H.D. Munro in ‘Dictionary of Sociology’.
    The concept of totemism has yet to be satisfactorily defined. However, it could be said, according to the theory of totemism, a tribe is supposed to be related to an object, mainly an animal or planet, towards which they behave respectfully by adopting its name and offering sacrifices or adorning it. The totems usually belong to the animal world- real or imaginary, and a few belong to the visible world.
  7. The fear Theory: Fear, a psychological phenomenon, is often said to be the cause of the emergence of religion. This view is quite old, as old as the ancient Greeks and Romans. Ancient Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius contended that believing in the goods was best on an illusion and that fear was at the root of religion. German scholar Maxi Muller supported this theory. According to him, the basis of religion is to be found in means of awe in the presence of extraordinary and terrifying natural phenomena.

Functions of Religion

The functions of religion are expressed below:

  1. Religion provides religious experience: This is the basic function of religion. Prayer, worship and meditation are summaries of religious experience.
  2. Religion provides peace of mind: Religion provides the individual with the most desired peace of mind.
  3. Religion promotes social solidarity: Religion upholds and validates the traditional ways of life. More than that, it unites people.
  4. Religion conserves the value of life: Religion is an effective means of preserving the values of life. Religion defines and redefines values. Moral, spiritual and social values are greatly supported by religion.
  5. Religion as an agent of social control: Religion is one of the forms of informal means of social control. It regulates the activities of people in its way.
  6. The priestly function of religion: By performing the priestly function, religion contributes to the stability and order of society.
  7. Religion provides recreation: Religion promotes recreation through religious lectures, Kirtanas, dramas, music, Bhajanas, Puranas, Harikathas, fairs, and art exhibitions. Various religious festivals and rituals can provide relief to the disturbed mind.

Religion plays a very vital role in the life of every human being.