ANT 261: Functions Of Religion Within Society Research Paper

Cultural and Ethnic Studies

FUNCTIONS OF RELIGION RESEARCH PAPER – GUIDE FOR READING AND WRITING Students will write a research paper on any theme covered in the course (e.g., “Language and Communication” or “Ethnicity and Race” or “Gender”). The research paper will consist of summaries of the MAIN arguments of the chapters covered under the selected theme and discuss […]

Functions Of Religion Within Society


The current study has established that within society, religion is centered on behaviors and beliefs concerned with supernatural forces, powers, and beings. From the analysis, it is also evident that animism is the most basic and earliest form of religion. Furthermore, people may turn to magic when rational and ordinary technical approaches to doing things fail. In most cases, magic is utilized when there is a lack of control over the outcome. At the same time, religions offer psychological security and comfort in times of crisis. Nonetheless, rites can as well lead to anxiety. It involves three stages, including incorporation, liminality, and separation. Rituals, on the other hand, are earnest, stylized, invariant, and formal acts in which followers of a conviction subordinate their specific beliefs to a social collectivity. In brief, the analysis has demonstrated that religion assists in preserving social order but can also lead to change.

Keywords: Meaning, beliefs, supernatural forces

Religion consists of rituals and beliefs regarding supernatural forces, powers, and beings. In the conviction, supernatural beings must be acknowledged on faith and are not of the material world, such as souls, ghosts, goddesses, and gods. Like language and ethnicity, religion is linked to social divisions between and within nations and societies. For this reason, it is an aspect that both divides and unites. Daily news shows that differences in religion may be connected to bitter enmity (Kottak, 2014). Nonetheless, involvement in shared rites may affirm and thus preserve the social unity of the adherents of one religion. Most faith seekers come and go, searching for that unique group that will satisfy their earthly needs and spiritual longings. In this way, religion plays essential functions within society by offering insight into the meaning, religious beliefs, and supernatural forces.

Religion and Meaning

One crucial function of religion is to give people meaning in life. Pursuing meaning is one of the resilient motivations for humans since it gives hope when people are challenged with adversity (Asma, 2018). Therefore, seeing purpose in life assists people in coping with personal trauma. Religion offers psychological and social resources, such as encouragement, positive thinking, locus of control, and encouragement for a healthy lifestyle (Shiah, Chang, Chiang, Lin, & Tam, 2015). Thus, conviction helps both men and women to cope with tragedy and adversity. Through religion, one gains faith that things will get better. At the same time, rebirth and spiritual healing have transformed lives. Likewise, sinners will be damned if they continue sinning, and they can be saved if they repent.

Many people get involved in the religious activity because it appears to work. Faith healers heal, and the prayers are always answered. Therefore, religion’s meaning is centered on social control (Kottak, 2014). The point is that religion functions by getting inside believers and mobilizing their emotions, including their righteousness, their wrath, and their joy. The authority of religion impacts action. When religions meet, their differences can be a basis for disharmony and enmity, or they can exist peacefully. Political leaders have, throughout history, used religion to justify and promote their policies and views.

Furthermore, religion seeks to answer a vital question concerning meaning in one’s life, such as the reason for existence, why people die and suffer, and what transpires when one dies. Whereas medicine and science depend on current scientific evidence to respond to the questions of the state, religion aims to explain injustice, death, and suffering in the realm of the sacred (Shiah et al., 2015). In this regard, sacred signifies those dynamics of life that supernatural or extraordinary. People feel a sense of fear, deep respect, reverence, and awe for what is considered sacred. The conviction asserts that life has a distinct meaning guided by the divine and that positive and negative experiences can contribute to this purpose. At the same time, many religions’ teachings are that finding one’s purpose and living it out is the path to a happy and full life.

Religious Beliefs

Religious beliefs signify assertiveness towards religion’s spiritual, supernatural, and mythological dynamics. Being derived from notions unique to religion, religious beliefs, time and again, relate to the worship, characteristics, and existence of a divine being. This way, religious beliefs are centered on magic, rituals, and rites of passage. Different religions believe in magic, which denotes the supernatural techniques utilized to attain specific objectives. Some examples of these techniques include the following ones: incantations, formulas, and spells, which are used with impersonal forces or with deities. The methods are performed by magicians who utilize imitative magic to generate an anticipated effect. For example, if the wish of a magician is to injure or kill someone, they often emulate that effect on the victim’s image (Kottak, 2014). Whatever is done with contagious magic is believed to affect the individual who once had contact with it. Occasionally, the practitioners of this form of magic use products from the body of prospective victims, such as hair or nail. It is believed that the spell performed on the product of the body will ultimately reach the targeted individual and work the desired way.

Secondly, there is the aspect of rituals. The main features of this belief include being stereotyped, repetitive, and stylized. Rituals carry information regarding the participants and their traditions. They translate enduring sentiments, values, and messages into action because they are repeated generation after generation and year after year (Kottak, 2014). In this way, rituals are social performances. Without a doubt, some members are more devoted to the beliefs behind the rights than others. Nonetheless, the participants signal that they acknowledge a standard and moral social order by participating in a joint public act. They do so because it is an order that surpasses their status as individuals.

Last but not least, the rite of passage is a belief centered on religion, linked to the transition from one stage of life or one place to another. Religion and magic can allay fears and reduce anxiety. Ironically rituals and beliefs can also create a sense of danger, insecurity, and anxiety. Anxiety may transpire due to the existence of a rite. Indeed, participating in a collective ritual may enhance stress, whose mutual reduction, through the accomplishment of the process, promotes solidarity among the participants (Kottak, 2014). As an illustration, the rite of passage, such as the circumcision of teenagers, can be very stressful. Baptism and confirmation are some other examples of the traditions of passage. The progression often entails changes in social status, such as from nonmember to member or from boyhood to manhood. In brief, this process has three stages, including incorporation, liminality, and separation.

Supernatural Forces

The supernatural forces consist of beings, such as spirits, demons, ghosts, and deities. It must be accepted on faith, cannot be verified empirically, and is of the nonmaterial world. Supernatural forces are centered on various dynamics, including animism, polytheism, and monotheism. Animism is centered on the notion of trance, dreaming, and death. People see images in trances and dreams (other spirits), which they may remember when they come out of the trance state or wake up. Animism, in this regard, is, therefore, the belief in spiritual beings. For example, almost all Hindus in rural North India believe the soul goes through a sequence of rebirths. Following the death of a person, the soul becomes a ghost and wanders in the village cremation ground for thirteen days (Spradley & McCurdy, 1984). In additional likelihood, many Hindus consider that a soul may become a ghost. Such souls are people who die from murder, suicide, accident, disease, or torture, and they haunt the places where they died and lived, possibly for decades.

Secondly, polytheism entails the belief in multiple gods. This notion is essential in explaining concepts that do not appear to have a unifying description. The hierarchies of the goddesses and gods explain why some forces are more widespread or influential than others (Hwang, 2016). Hinduism, for example, is a belief system consisting of many gods and dates back four thousand years. For this reason, it is described as a polytheist religion. In various villages, most of the followers of this conviction have their god whom they revere. In brief, the followers of this religion believe in many deities (polytheism) who are in charge of aspects of nature.

Lastly, monotheism is the faith in a single, all-powerful deity. It is the newest category of religious philosophy, appearing in the last few millennia (Hwang, 2016). Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are the three great monotheistic religions of the world. The formation of this type of conviction is connected to the history of Judaism. Muslims, as well as Christians, trace their origins to the faith of the Israelites. For the Jews, monotheism entailed a unique covenant relationship with Yahweh (God). Based on this association, there was the formation of the strict first commandment, which is to have no other god apart from Yahweh. Monotheism also has notions of divine power and priesthood, although it perceives the supernatural differently (Kottak, 2014). In this conviction, the manifestations of the paranormal phenomena are controlled by a single and eternal being.


All in all, the function of religion within society is to bring solidarity. The conviction can achieve this because the followers acknowledge principles (rulings or teachings) concerning the association between the profane and scared. Religions express their beliefs in various ways, such as through magic, rituals, and rites of passage. It also serves emotional needs and not only explains things and assists people attain goals. Religion also levels mechanisms, including social action or custom, to lessen status differences. In brief, the conviction further ensures appropriate behavior through rewards and punishments; many commend morality and a code of ethics.


Asma, S. T. (2018). Why we need religion. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hwang, T. (2016). What is the purpose of creation? Gyeonggi-do, Korea: AMI.

Kottak. (2014). Cultural anthropology. New York: Mcgraw Hill Higher Education.

Shiah, Y. J., Chang, F., Chiang, S. K., Lin, I. M., & Tam, W. C. C. (2015). Religion and health: Anxiety, religiosity, the meaning of life and mental health. Journal of religion and health54(1), 35-45. DOI: 10.1007/s10943-013-9781-3.

Spradley, J. P., & McCurdy, D. W. (1984). Culture and the contemporary world. Conformity and conflict: Readings in cultural anthropology, 1-13.

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