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Functions of Religion

Functions of Religion

Author: Paul Hannan

Examine the functions of religion in society.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Gears Public Domain Globe Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome this episode of Sociology, Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on functions of religion. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So today, we're going to be looking at functions of religion. Now as a reminder, functions are really tied into the structural functional approach. And that's the idea that society is this really complex system. There are all these different parts that work together to really make the system stay and stay stable, and even bad things can be a part of this complex machine.

OK, so let's start by looking at the world. And we're going to divide the world into two different parts. We're going to divide it into the profane and the sacred. And these two terms, you've probably heard profane before, you maybe heard of sacred before, but this specific division is based on the work of Durkheim.

So, profane. Profane is everything that's ordinary and practical of everyday life. So getting up in the morning, having breakfast, that's a profane experience. Walking the dog, that's a profane experience.

Sacred, on the other hand, is the extraordinary, the supernatural. These are things that really transcend the everyday. I think a good example of that is a sunrise.

Now, a sunrise might just be a profane thing that's happening every day, but there are moments that that becomes, that sunrise becomes so special, it becomes supernatural. It's an experience that transcends what's going on in your life.

So again, we're dividing the world into two different parts. We have the profane and the sacred. So Durkheim did that, and then he looked at three different functions for religion. So again, a function is basically the purpose, why it exists in society.

So the first one he came up with was cohesion. So he saw religion as really being a spot that helps groups come together, that helps community happen, continue to happen and thrive.

It also brings this idea of a shared experience. So when you're maybe going to mass together, you are all experiencing some event together. And that's really bringing everyone together, and it's really making a cohesive group.

Another function of religion, according to Durkheim, is control. Religion acts as an agent to help control populations and pass on social norms. It really supports what's going on in the current system and helps make sure that everyone is following the same rules for being in society.

The last function Durkheim gave it was purpose. Religion helps people have purpose to life. There's many different things going on. There are hardships. There are good times. There are bad times, but religion helps society feel like well, there's a reason for these good times or bad times.

I to think of it as a willingness to persevere. When things are bad and you want to give up, well, religion can be that thing that helps you not give up and helps you keep going.

Now, there are two other concepts I don't want to leave out before you finish learning about the functions of religion. And that's religiosity and sacred ritual.

So religiosity is just the level of dedication to religion. So someone who is very religious, guess what? They have a high level of religiosity.

The other term is a sacred ritual. Remember that term, sacred, that was talking about-- we had the profane, which are the everyday things, and the sacred, which are special, magical, transcendent experiences? Well, sacred rituals are just rituals to help keep things that are sacred important and powerful. So I have it on the screen, venerate the sacred.

So today's take away message. We looked at the profane, which is the ordinary, everyday things. And that's as opposed to the sacred, which is, of course, those transcendent, special things.

Durkheim outlined three different functions of religion, social cohesion, social control, and purpose.

Religiosity is just the level of dedication to religion that a person has, and a sacred ritual is a ritual designed to venerate the sacred.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully, you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Durkheim's Three Functions of Religion

Durkheim highlighted three important functions of religion: 1) Social Cohesion; 2) Social Control; 3) Provides Meaning.


Everyday objects and ideas, or the mundane and the commonplace.


A term meant to capture how religious a person is, or in other words, how important religion is in someone's life.


Objects and ideas in society that are treated with reverence, deference, and awe.