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  • The Role of Religion in History & Society

Is Religion a Social Consensus?

Updated on July 1, 2017

What is right and what is wrong? what does it mean to be religious?

Religion certainly plays a role in our societies as its presence is seen through the evidence of grand monuments and felt through the call for prayer and gathering of the faithful on Friday, Saturday or Sunday and the observation of religious holy days.

Religion still is an institution and a social identifier that expects its members to act in way that reflects the community's lifestyle. This way of behaving is different from other institutions such as professional fields as religion is taught from a very early age by parents, family members or guardians of the individual. You can hardly find a banker being socialised to be one at a tender age as career is mostly an adult choice.

The how to behave is reminiscent of what Emile Durkheim calls social facts. In the society, there are general rules of behaviour that people adhere to which are unconscious as they are internalised through socialisation.

Any person who misrepresents the code of behaviour in the society is considered a deviant and public opinion serves to control the person's behaviour in order to modify it. In this regard, there is the sense of control. A doctor in the medical field adheres to a code of conduct termed as ethics which act as a moral ground on expected proper behaviour towards a patient. A doctor who misrepresents the code sees their license revoked and the same applies to lawyers who get disbarred from practising. In Religion, the faithful is excommunicated.

Thus people are encultured and expected to act in a manner that conforms to the norms of the society and failure to do so results in a form of punishment commensurate with the social crime. To be religious is to follow the rules of the religion, to be a good doctor is to follow the rules of the profession, to be a good lawyer is to be well versed in matters law and to follow it.

The social crime in religion is termed as sin. Religion defines what is right and what is wrong and thus dictates clearly what morality ought to be and what is immoral.

As morality touches on social behaviour, how to conduct oneself, what to eat and where to pray, there is a communal aspect of consensus.

Consensus is a group agreement and understanding of what is allowed and what is not allowed among the members of that community.

This is the reason as to why religions diverge into many denominations to the extent that some would be classified as new religions altogether.

The split occurs when the consensus is not strong enough to accommodate the beliefs of some members of the group and they are either excommunicated or they form another group based on another consensus and a belief system.

Religion thus is a consensus and a unifier that complements the societal structure in defining the place of morality to ensure survival into the next generation. Matters of right and wrong depend on the institution's consensus on what is allowed.


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    • Bildad Hawi profile image

      Bildad Hawi 6 months ago

      Most religions follow the golden rule as part of their moral reasoning and so religious persons would resist harming others but cults act on their own set of rules that far too often ends up being physically and mentally harmful to the members and therefore a contrast between the two is necessary. A cult can develop within a religion but dissociation is always made.

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      Dugitron9001 6 months ago

      Religion is a fancy word for cult.