The Function of Religion

Why Are People Religious? The Function of Religion

There appears to be two primary explanations for the emergence of religious systems: for psychological reasons and social reasons. Psychologically, religion helps people answer the big existential questions, why do we die and suffer, and help people cope with uncertainty. Religion provides a clear cut way to deal with the unknown. The Trobriand Islanders are excellent mariners, yet perform elaborate rituals before setting sail. On 9/11 and in the days following, tens of thousands US citizens went to church, temple, or mosque to pray and find comfort and answers to the devastation of the terrorist attack.

Socially, religion helps to mediate tension between social roles and relationships. It provides guidelines for how husbands and wives are supposed to act towards one another. It proscribes the relationship of children to parents, and individuals to their society at large. Religion is a way for adherents to achieve consensus. It provides guidelines for right living and identifies what values to hold. Religion gives groups a set of social rules that help to maintain order, invoking a supernatural punishment if its tenets are not followed.



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Warms, Richard. 2008. Sacred Realms: Readings in the Anthropology of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press.

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