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Text XII. RELIGION



We have already studied cultural universals, i.e. general practices found in every culture — such as dancing, food preparation, the family, and personal names. Religion is clearly such a cultural universal and religious institutions are evident in all societies. At present, an estimated 3.6 billion persons belong to the world's major religious faiths.

Religionis found throughout the world because it offers answers to such ultimate questions as why we exist, why we succeed or fail, and why we die. It is difficult to determine with certainty when religious behavior began, but anthropological evidence suggests that such behavior was evident at least 100 000 years ago.

Nowadaysthe world's principal religions include the following religious faiths:

1.Christianity or the Christian religion. This religion is based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and is named after him. Jesus Christ was expected to save the Jews. He established Christianity and was considered by the Christians to be the son of the God. Christianity was established in the 1st century AD. and later developed into a ruling religion. Now it is one of the world's major religions.

In the course of time Christianity was divided into several branches. Roman Catholicismis a branch of the Christian religion, the Roman Catholic Church, whose leader, the Pope, rules from Rome. Protestantism is a part of the Christian Church that separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. These two religious faiths are the national religions of many countries in Europe, North and South America, and Australia. The third major branch of Christianity isOrthodox. The Orthodox Church or the Eastern (Greek) Church is contrasted with the Roman or Western Church. It came into being with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 4th century and developed into a world's major religion in the IX—XI centuries in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, Byzantium. Nowadays the Orthodox Church includes the national churches of Eastern Europe. Among the other Christian faiths is theAnglican Church or the Church of England which was established in the 16th century as a branch of the Christian Church and now it has about 30 min followers. All in all, there are over 1.6 billion total Christians in the world.

2.Islam. The founder of this religion is the great Arabian prophet Mohammed or Muhammad (570(?)-632 AD). The followers of Islam are called Moslems or Muslims. This religious faith is the national religion of many countries in Asia and Africa. The followers of this religion worship Allah (the Arabic word for «God»).

3.Buddhism. This religion is founded by Buddha, the great religious teacher who lived in India about 2500 years ago. The followers of this religion are called Buddhists. This is the national religion of India and some other countries of Asia.

4.Judaism, the religion of the Jews.

5.Hinduism, the religious system of the Hindus (the largest social and religious subdivision of the population of India).

6.Chinese Folk Religions. Although some particular religious faiths dominate some areas and countries of the world, nowadays even within the same society, there is a diversity of beliefs, rituals, and experiences that characterize its religious life, and people turn to a variety of religions for answers to ultimate questions of existence.

In modern societies religious behavior is organized in four basic forms: the ecclesia, the denomination, the sect, and the cult.

An ecclesia is a religious organization that claims to include most of or all the members of a society and is recognized as the national or official religion. Examples of an ecclesia include the Lutheran church in Sweden, the Catholic church in Spain, Islam in Iran. In a society with an ecclesia the political and religious institutions often act in harmony and mutually reinforce each other, though within the modern world, the ecclesia tends to be declining in power.

A denomination is a large, organized religion that is not officially linked with the state or government. Though considered respectable within a society, it lacks the official recognition and power held by an ecclesia. No nation of the world has more denominations than the United States because many settlers in «the new world» brought with them the native religions of their homelands. Thus, there is a diversity of Christian religions in the United States and some non-Christian faiths as well.

A sect is a relatively small religious group that has broken away from some other religious organization to renew what it views as the original vision of the faith. Sects are fundamentally at odds with society, they are often short-lived and do not seek to become established national religions.

A cult is a generally small, secretive religious group that represents either a new religion or a major innovation of an existing faith.

Sociologists have recognized the critical importance of religion in human societies. They see its appeal for the individual and due to that appeal they view religion as a social institution and evaluate its impact on human societies.

Since religion is a cultural universal, it fulfills several basic functions within human societies. In viewing religion as a social institution sociologists stress the following major functions of religion in modern society: integration, social control, and social support. Religion offers people meaning and purpose for their lives, it gives them certain ultimate values which help a society to function as an integrated social system, reinforce other social institutions and the social order as a whole. Religion can offer people social support. Most of us find it difficult to accept the stressful events of life — death of a loved one, serious illness, bankruptcy, divorce, and so forth, especially when something «senseless» happens. Religion encourages us to view our personal misfortunes as relatively unimportant, as being «God's will». This perspective may be much more comforting than the terrifying feeling that any of us can die senselessly at any moment. Besides, religion offers consolation to people by giving them hope that they can achieve eternal happiness in an afterlife.

But not all social scientists look upon religion in this perspective. Karl Marx described religion as an «opiate» particularly harmful to oppressed peoples. In his view and later in the view of conflict theorists, religion often drugged the masses into submission by offering them a consolation for their harsh lives on earth: the hope of happiness in an ideal afterlife. In simpler terms, religion keeps people from seeing their lives in political terms and diverts their attention from earthly problems. From Marx's perspective, religion promotes stability within society and therefore helps to maintain social inequality. Religion reinforces the interests of those in power and the subordination of the powerless. Finally, Marxists suggest that religion lessens the possibility of collective political action that can end oppression and transform society.

In contemporary industrial societies, scientific and technological advances have increasingly affected all aspects of life, including the social institution of religion. The termsecularization refers to the process through which religion's influence on social life diminishes. But despite the fact that this process is evident and other social institutions — such as the economy, politics, and education — maintain independence of religious guidance at present, it would be incorrect to conclude that religion is in decline. Religion will survive in the private spheres of individual and family life and on a personal level because people appear to be turning to religion as they lose confidence in other important institutions of social life. At present, religion continues to be an important influence on human society.





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