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Collective Consciousness: Role of Religion in Influencing It

Updated on May 20, 2017

Collective consciousness, also called collective conscience, or collective conscious, is the set of shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes, which operate as a unifying force within society.In general, it does not refer to the specifically moral conscience but to a shared understanding of social norms. It informs our sense of belonging and identity, and our behavior.

The term was introduced by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, who described it as follows:

“The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average members of a society forms a determinate system with a life of its own. It can be termed the collective or creative consciousness.”

Collective consciousness has also been termed "hive mind", "group mind", "mass mind", and "social mind". Society is made up of various collective groups such as the family, community, organizations, regions and nations. Such collective groups possess capability to think, judge, decide, act, reform; to conceptualize self and others as well as self's actions and interactions; and to reflect. And that is why they greatly influence the collective consciousness of a particular society.

Collective consciousness can span generations. And it encapsulates things that most people in society have in common. But this doesn't mean that individuals aren't important. People are key to internalizing shared beliefs and then reproducing them or passing them along.

There are many factors that play significant roles in influencing collective consciousness of society. They can be: individuals, religions, science and its developments, mass media, culture and cultural differences, and motivational influence such as an ideology or a charismatic personality. From time to time, these factors create their impact depending upon prevailing situations, sometimes greatly influencing collective consciousness so much that dramatic changes - positive or negative - can take place in society. As a matter fact, all these factors are social forces that can bring about significant changes in the society.

Concept of lower and higher consciousness –

Different religious ideologies introduced the concept of higher consciousness, which is the consciousness of Higher Self, denoting the part of human being that is capable of transcending animal instincts. Similarly, when the animal instincts dominate the life of human beings, they are said to possess Lower Consciousness.

In the fullness of time, many religious faiths and movements took birth propagating their ideologies and thus influencing individual consciousness, which contributes primarily to collective consciousness of society. The recent movement of Modern Spirituality also underlies the idea of "lower" and "higher consciousness" that has gained popularity.

In actuality, lower or higher consciousness prevailing in society affects it negatively or positively depending on what dominates it. Since individual consciousness contributes to the creation of collective consciousness, we are actually responsible for creating a reality, which we reaffirm and reproduce it by living in ways that reflect it.

Role of religion in transition from lower to higher consciousness in individuals –

Religion has been exerting a dominating influence in society, changing the levels of individual consciousness, which adds up to make collective consciousness. But some of religious or denominational ideologies, even well established ones, don’t appeal to some or lose their significance in context to certain prevailing situations. Consequently, a process of change of many of the concepts associated with religions or religious faiths begins. Many will come across teachings, with which they disagree. This is to be expected and unavoidable. There is always a transition from old definitions to new consciousness.

Moreover, everyone brings one’s lifetime of experiences to one’s religious faith: things one has learned in one’s family of origin, at school, with friends, at work, etc. This often influences one’s religious beliefs.

Most religions do not readily accept change. Many faith groups only alter their beliefs after great agony, internal conflict, and even schism and violence. Sometimes it takes centuries to complete the process.

However, there are people who have misconstrued the truth about what religion is and use that to manipulate others into thinking their way. They brainwash others into thinking that their version is the only way, thus promoting fundamentalism, which is a roadblock to the progression to higher consciousness in individuals. Instead, it generates and promotes animal instincts in humans.

As a matter of fact, religion can act as a catalytic agent for conversion of lower consciousness into higher in human beings. If it fails to do so, its very purpose is defeated. It can do so by:

  • Providing mental peace to its followers
  • Explaining the significance of individual sufferings
  • Inculcating social virtues
  • Promoting social solidarity
  • Converting animal qualities to human qualities
  • Acting as an agent of positive social change
  • Promoting social welfare
  • Providing a source of social cohesion
  • Strengthening individual self-confidence

Religion had been a central element in the life of civilization and will probably do so in times to come.

Role of religion in collective consciousness in society –

Since the advent of human society, humans have been immensely influenced by religions or religious faiths, although such influence has been waxing or waning from time to time. With the passage of time, the religions became organized with definite ideologies, thereby exerting more influence on the collective consciousness of people.

With the conversion of lower consciousness to higher in human beings, the collective consciousness of society also goes higher, thereby transcending individuals selfish motives to general social welfare. It becomes the propagator of basic values and ethical code which provide cohesion to society.

There is strong evidence that the regular practice of religion helps raise the collective consciousness, thereby providing beneficial effects in nearly every aspect of social concern as a whole.

The bottom line –

The totality of beliefs, ideas, and moral attitudes of people in a society constitutes its collective consciousness. People living in a society having a higher collective consciousness generally are happier because such a society is more concerned with their well being. However, religion plays a pivotal role in raising the collective consciousness of people. Conversely, certain groups of people try to misconstrue the truth about what religion is, trying to manipulate them to bring about their selfish motives. Such people adversely affect the collective consciousness by promoting religious chauvinism and bigotry in a society.

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