Religion: Meaning, Types, Perspectives, and Significance4 min read

Religion is a social institution involving beliefs and practices based upon a conception of the sacred. The sacred is that which is defined as extraordinary, inspiring, a sense of awe, reverence and even fear. In distinction, the profane consists of ordinary elements of everyday life.

The sociology of religion has been derived from word ‘Religare’ which means to bind. It is a spontaneous response to the awe inspiring extra ordinary manifestation of reality. It is a journey to spiritual serenity and inner journey. It is perceived as mysterious and higher power.

From the beginning of human evolution to the dates, it has been institutionalized systems of beliefs, symbols, values and practices medicated through Vedas, Purans, Upanishads and the Geeta among Hindus, the Bible among Christians, the Quran among Islam, and Tripatak among Buddhists.

Characteristics of Religion

  • It is one of the strong social institution.
  • Religion binds society, according to Emile Durkheim.
  • All religion seeks for purity of lineage.
  • All religion has certain rules of worship.
  • All religion seeks to flourish art and architecture.
  • Religion defines what is sacred and profane.
  • Religion upholds social norms.
  • Reverence towards supernatural being
  • It is a road to spiritual serenity and inner journey.
  • Godly power surmounts Devil power.

Major religions in the world and its sects

A sect is a religious organization formed when members of an existing religious group break away.

Major Religion Sects
Hinduism 1.       Vaishnavism

2.       Shaivaism

3.       Shaktism

4.       Tantrism


Buddhism 1.       Hinyan

2.       Mahayan

3.       Bajrayan

4.       Tantrayan

5.       Lamaism


Christianity 1.       Roman Catholic

2.       Protestant

3.       Eastern Orthodox

Islam 1.       Sunni Islam

2.       Shia Islam

3.       Sufi Islam

Different perspectives on Religion

  1. Functionalism

The functionalist perspective, which originates from Emile Durkheim’s work on religion, highlights the social role of religion. According to Durkheim, religion binds or integrates society. Durkheim believes that religion is the celebration and even (self-) worship of human society. So, he proposed two major functions of religion in society:

  1. Religion provides social cohesion to maintain society in social solidarity through shared rituals and beliefs,
  2. Religion provides social control to enforce religious-based morals and norms and help maintain conformity and control in society, thus, it offers meaning and purpose to answer any existential questions.

Emile Durkheim wrote a famous book “Suicide” in 1897 that religious group have less suicidal cases in comparison to anti religious group i.e. Catholic ethics and protestant ethics

  1. Conflict Perspective

Conflict perspective originated in the work of Karl Marx. Marx argues that religion works to calm uncertainty over our role in the universe and in society, and to maintain the status quo. According to Marx, religion is used by the rulers or the Bourgeoisie to justify its economic, political, and social advantages over the oppressed. He believes ‘religion is the opium of people’. This paraphrase was translated from the German original, “Die Religion… ist das Opium des Volkes,” and is often referred to as “religion is the opiate of the masses.”

  1. Rationalism

Rationalism is another perspective of sociology based on the work of Max Weber. Unlike other theologist, Weber was not concerned on religion of everyday life, but, on political, administrative, economic and moral behavior in different historical situations that he tried to understand and reduces to order. His study says that religion which is based on cultural needs of man has now added new dimensions to human life and human development. Weber says there’s only two types of religion; one worshipping god and another worshipping work. For example: Calvinist sect of protestant Christian religion has strongest influences on the development of capitalism.

 Significance of Religion

  • It gives formal approval to existing social arrangements.  In other words, it justifies our society’s norms and customs.
  • Many social customs and rituals are based on religion.  This idea is called legitimation.
  • Religion brings a sense of unity.  We unite together and take care of each other because of this. For example: charities, friendships, etc.
  • Religious practices appears to have enormous potential to address today’s social problems, as it provides a sense of understanding. A reason why we are here and why we exist.
  • Religious practices acts as control mechanism. Religion alone can control human social crime in the name of god and salvation (Mokshya), that even tons of army force or police troops of state cannot do.

READ  Foundation of Sociology

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