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Religion and Society

Religion and Society

Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson will discuss the role played by religion in the greater society, with emphasis on the often symbiotic relationship between religion and society.

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Hello. Welcome.

So what is society without religion? And what is religion without society? Well, these are the questions we're going to look at today. So think along with me for a minute here.

So religion without society. Well, maybe you can say that that would be the realm of pure god or gods. Well, how do we know that? We need people to say such things, to believe there is a god or gods in the first place, and that there is some other realm that's somehow important and relevant beyond the human realm.

Well, that's religion. And in this sense it can't exist without societies to consider it, to present and represent it to themselves and the world, other generations as well as other cultures, and even different societies, societies have different religious practices and beliefs, which brings us to the next question-- society without religion.

Well, in societies past and present there has always been a range of different religious beliefs and practices. And among them there has always been some portion of non-believers.

For example, according to the 2005 Eurobarometer Poll, 33% of the population of France has no belief in a spirit, god, or other life force. However, 34% also reported to have some belief in god, So wherever you look, you'll find some percentage of religious belief among a population, even if it's as little as 19%, as in the Czech Republic, for example.

So in societies that are traditionally stable or expansive, religion often works as a binding force with shared values, beliefs, and practices. And in every case, religion and the often complex structure of belief and practice is what gives rise to societies in the first place.

Look at the civilizations of ancient Egypt, for example. In any moderately religious society, whether old or new, whether it has a national religion or is secular, or even officially atheistic like China, religion provides guidance and direction, support to the individual. Life's transitions are full of surprises, and many find solace in the beliefs and the practices of religion as they navigate their solo journey.

But built into the religious paradigm, if one chooses to go that way, is a social fabric, too, that has the history, the words, and the customs of tradition that are imprinted and worked through its fibers.

In the family, it sits more unified at the table with a moment of grace or prayer before the meal. However, meal time is not without its own tensions sometimes. Given the rich variety of individual wills and desires and tensions and goals, there's always an available recipe for dispute, conflict of interest, et cetera.

As a trusted societal institution and resource, though, religion has traditionally stepped in to mediate such conflicts. For many followers of Judaism, for example, it's not uncommon to solicit the support and aid of the community rabbi when a family dispute erupts. Or you might think of Christian good shepherd or good Samaritan organizations that provide a variety of social services like conflict resolution, prison reform, counseling, family counseling, et cetera.

And of course there are many religions that have international wings that help with political refugee crises and natural disaster assistance, things like that. And in this sense religion plays a strong role in binding communities, forming new relationships between individuals and groups, and whole societies, in fact.

The final point we should think about is that although religion and the associated values and practices might be shared among a member or members of society, it doesn't guarantee a smooth ride. However, it might have the advantage of having certain structures in place to mediate and help resolve conflict, whereas the absence of an ideological and practical common ground of shared belief and beliefs exposes itself to many more variables, aimless violence of all sorts, religiously motivated or not.

So before reviewing, let's go over the key terms.

An atheist. An atheist is a person who is an inherent of atheism, someone who believes that god does not exist.

An agnostic is an adherent of agnosticism, one who either has not decided whether or not god exists, or who believes that the existence or non-existence of god can never be known.

And we used atheist to demonstrate that in any society you're going to find religious adherence, and you're going to find non-believers, and that the interrelationship between religion and society is very complex, and often societies are born out of this religious impulse.

We also talked about the individual search and how an individual search within a religious paradigm is often supported by the family, but at the same time the conflicts can evolve on a family level, on a societal level. And religion has traditionally played the role of stepping in to help mediate conflicts.

And also, in a society where there's an absence of shared beliefs, there can often be conflict, religiously motivated violence that is either religiously motivated or not.

Notes on “Religion and Society”


“Demographics of atheism.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 19 March, 2013. Web. 20 March, 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism#Europe_and_Russia>;

  • Atheist

    An adherent of atheism; one who believes that god does not exist.

  • Agnostic

    An adherent of agnosticism; one who either has not decided whether or not god exists, or who believes that the existence or non-existence of god can never be known.