According to Anthropologist, “ it is a set of
attitudes, beliefs and practices, pertaining to
supernatural beings and forces. Such beliefs
may vary within a culture as well as among
societies, and they may change over time.”
Nevertheless, there remain several issues in defining
religion that are rooted in a dichotomous perspective on it held by
There is the issue on how to delineate
between the religious and nonreligious
phenomena. The Kikuyu of Kenya
believe that vomiting is a religious
practice as it eliminates all the evil in a
person’s body. In most societies,
vomiting is not considered religious, as it
is understood as a typical biological
Another issue in defining religion is rooted in the belief in the
existence of a divide between the spiritual and natural world.
Some societies such as that of the Nyoro in Uganda believe that
the two worlds are not separate and that they coexist in one
space, Christians, on the other hand, believe that there is a
spiritual world (i.e., heaven/hell) that is separate from the natural
world (i.e., Earth).
These issues present that religions are different in terms of
perspectives and practices. However, religion can be found in all
human societies. This makes religion a cultural universal.
One of the best examples of the wide practice of
religion during ancient periods is the religion and
mythology of ancient Greece. Because religion has been
associated with rituals, artifacts, beliefs and
ceremonies, the ancient Greeks were considered to
have had a religion or varieties of religion due to their
countless religious beliefs.
Religion affects you and your way of thinking in
the existing world. It serves as a pattern for the
actions you take in a day-to-day existence. Religion is
seen not only as a social belief but also as a social
institutions and the concept of social change.
Theoretical Perspective Major Assumptions
Functionalism Religion serves several functions for society. These include (a)
giving meaning and purpose to life, (b) reinforcing social unity and
stability, (c) serving as an agent of social control of behavior, (d)
motivating physical and psychological well-being and (e) motivating
people to work for positive social change.
Conflict theory Religion reinforces and promotes social inequality and social conflict.
It helps convince the poor to accept their lot in life, and it leads to
hostility and violence motivated by religious differences.
Symbolic interactionism This perspective focuses on the ways in which individuals interpret
their religious experiences. It emphasizes that beliefs and practices
are not sacred unless people regard them as such. Once they are
regarded as sacred, they take on special significance and give
meaning to people’s lives.
Functions of Religion
Emile Durkheim argues that religion serves many functions for
societies. First, religions give meaning and purpose to life.
The age-old questions of humans on their existence and the
reasons for circumstances that befall them were first addressed
by religion. Second, religion reinforces social unity and
stability. Religions establish own practices, beliefs and ways of
worship that enable people to be united in one place. This does
not only bring people physically together but also facilitates
social interactions among them sharing same norms and values
in a certain religious group.
Functions of Religion
Third, religions serve as an agent of social behavior
control through the teachings they provide. These
teachings motivate people to do well and be functional
members of society.
Fourth, religions promote physical and
psychological well-being by being the source of
other’s comfort and happiness in times of obstacle
and distress. Studies show that religiosity promotes
better health and long life (Moberg, 2008).
Last, religions serve as motivation toward social
change. Religious individuals such as Martin Luther and
Mahatma Gandhi instigated social changes in their
societies (Morries, 1984).
Conflict theory understands religion in relation to inequality and conflict as
inspired by the works of Karl Marx who stated that “religion is the opiate of
the masses” (Marx, 1964). In this statement, Marx implied the use of religion
by the governing elite to pacify the discontent of the masses.
He further argued that instead of seeing poverty as the direct result of
unequal access to resources, the masses perceive it as a manifestation of
the will of the divine, which promote the belief that enduring suffering would
be rewarding in the end. These views lead Marx to see religion as cause of
continuous social inequality among different societies. Gender inequality
concern also arise from religion by representing stereotypical views about
women being subordinate to men (Klassen, 2009).
Looking into the micro perspective
of religion, Max weber’s symbolic
interactionism approach argues that
religion is integrated with symbols
and interpretations. The world is
believed to be socially constructed.
For the interactionist, the
sacredness of activities and symbols
depend on the perception of the
believer. Hence, the practice of
wearing a veil among Muslims can
be either a religious or a
nonreligious ritual as the wearer
Religion involves several social patterns that are incorporated with different social
structures, norms and values. According to Kurtz (2007), all religious contain cosmogonies---
stories and beliefs on how the world was created and how it actually started. In ancient
times, smaller societies have this belief of spirits, which are apparitions believed to be
dwelling on Earth with the human race. This is one of the earliest forms of religious pattern,
which is known as animism.
Animism may have started in the precolonial and modern societies. However, there are
several resurrections of animistic traditions that were observed in contemporary periods. In
1990, the resurgence of new age movement that believed in the existence of supernatural
beings and entities was observed in Western cultures. This belief can be traced back to the
animistic beliefs of indigenous settlers. These beliefs based on the spiritual concept of the
universe and that everything that can be found inside it is said to have a soul and spirit,
including plats, trees, animals, and rocks. Natural phenomena and environmental
destructions are also understood as repercussions of the interaction between humans and
The concept of animism first appeared in the writing of Sir Edward Burnett
Tylor entitled Primitive Culture (1871). Tylor supposed animism means “spirit”
and referred to a given form of religion wherein humans are aware of every
spirit that can bae found in the environment. Central to Tylor’s argument are
the concepts of “the doctrine of human and other souls” or “the doctrine of
spiritual beings,” which are based on the foundational doctrine of “psychic
unity” or the predisposition of humans to conceive thoughts and concepts that
For the past 50 years, Tylor’s argument affirms that all humans for all time
have the capability to understand phenomena through the observed, known
and imagined universe. This is through the use of people’s own cultural
symbols and languages. Tylor also considers spiritualism as a modern cult
that is deficient of human motivations of animism, ideally, animism in all
aspects of the cultural system make it possible for the human race to
experience phenomena such as dreams, visions, insights and experiences.
In animism, spirits can be in either good or bad form. Moreover,
these spirits make interactions and influences on humans in various
ways and forms. For instance, bad spirits may cause negative
energies, possessions, demonic disturbances, and cases of insanity.
Benevolent spirits, on the contrary, may have attributes that aid
humans in acquiring their needs and addressing their issues. Native
Americans try to gain favors through festivals, ceremonies, and
prayers. One of the earliest forms of American animist ceremonies is
the Lakota Sioux War Dar, which was to perform by the tribe Lakota
Another religious pattern that was established during
ancient periods is polytheism. Polytheism is rooted in these
two words: poly, which means “many”, and theism, which
Hence, polytheism is characterized by the worship of many
deities, which illustrate ways of life including beliefs,
practices and traditions (Kowaleyak, 2012). Polytheistic
deities consists of variants of the sky god, death deity,
mother goddess, love goddess, creator deity, trickster deity,
life-death-rebirth deity and culture hero (Mastin, 2008).
David Hume in The Natural History of Religion (1755) argued that
polytheism was the earliest forms of religion among several societies.
The ideas of religion are said to be rooted in the “events of life including
hopes and tears which actuate the human mind” (Launay, 2005).
Consequently, these hopes and fears concerning, for instance, a birth, a
sickness, or a bad harvest and several other aspects are different
requiring for a variety of deities who would address them. Some of the
most popular polytheism societies include the Greeks, Romans, Indians
and Aztecs (Kendall, 2012). Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the
world and one of the classic examples of polytheism.
If you are Christian or Muslim, you can consider yourself a monotheist.
Monotheist strongly believes in one god, which is accountable for all the
things happening in the world including the world’s creation and existence.
It is believed that polytheism paved the way for the development of the
belief in the supreme power of one being. Scholars argue that as human
societies affiliate with a few of the gods in a pantheon of gods, they have
come to practice exclusive worship of several deities. This practice later
promoted the ascension of a singular chosen deity to supremacy. Hume
(1755) believed that the difference between polytheism and monotheism
led to the changes of human mind, wherein rationality is more associated
with monotheism while tolerance is to polytheism.
The development of religious pattern across societies reflect the
sociopolitical dynamics experienced by its followers. It can be said that
religion acts as a mirror of one’s society. Animistic societies tend to have
egalitarian practices that allow for equality to access to power and
resources. This is parallel to the status and relationship of spirits that
are worshipped in animism--- all are of equal stature. Polytheistic
societies often have a set of leaders who are governed by hierarchy.
Similarly, the gods in polytheistic religion are believed to follow a
hierarchy such that there is one chief god and many lesser counterparts.
Monotheistic societies tend to have one supreme political leader, such as
a president or a king, which is consistent with belief that there is also
one supreme deity.
When beliefs and rituals are codified and when worship of deities is structured,
religion ceases to be just a belief in the divine, as it takes on the characteristic of an
institution, Institutionalized religion is also referred to by sociologists as organized
religion. Some of the notable characteristic of institutionalized religion are the
1. Wide-scale religious clout – The number of individuals affiliated with this religious
institution is immense that it crosses political and international borders and cuts across
2. Hierarchical leadership and membership – Followers of this type of faith system are relegated
to sociopolitical posts within the system, which provides ranking and status This implies that
access to the divine may not be given to every member but is a privilege of a select few. The
decisions for the welfare of the religious group are also made by those who hold power
while the members are expected to follow them.
3. Codified rituals – The processes of interacting with the divine and with fellow members are
guided by written rules and regulations that have the power of the law such that a member’s
Inability to comply results in the imposition of sanctions
Separation of church and state
In ancient societies, the church and the state are synonymous as the leaders of
the church are also the political elite. Political scientist refer to this as Theocracy or the
rule of the divine.
As states developed into more complex political units, the interrelationship
between it and the church has been redefined to the extent that the church is
regarded as a separate entity from the state. Most developed and developing
countries have mandated the separation of church and state affairs through the
inclusion of prohibiting provision in their constitutions. The 1987 Philippine
Constitution is an example of this. Article III section 6 states that “the separation of
church and state shall be inviolable” More specifically, it states in Article III Section 5:
No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship,
without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be
required for the exercise of civil or political rights.
Types of Religious Practitioners
Religious practices are performed by individuals in varying
capacities. The four main types of religious practitioners are
shaman, sorcerer and witch, medium and priest.
A shaman is also known as a community healer. It is a position
that is usually occupied by a male who has fairly high status in his
community. A shaman is also involved in other non-religious
activities in his community. Making his religious function an
A sorcerer and a witch are poorly regarded in their societies due to the
perceived malevolence that they inflict in individuals. They have very low
social and economic status, and they are often ostracized by members of
their community. Accordingly, a sorcerer uses accomplish “malevolence
by means of thoughts and emotions alone”
A medium is well favored by members of his or her community as
he or she is involved in healing rituals while in a possessed trance. A
medium is also capable of performing divination to predict future
courses of action. Most mediums tend to be females who perform
other soles when not in religious practices.
A priest tends to be a male whose sole preoccupation is to officiate
religious ceremonies and rituals. Due to his status in religious
hierarchy, he is highly regarded by community members.
Types of Religious Activities
Constitutes the “manipulation of supernatural forces for the purpose of
interviewing in a wide range of human activities and natural activities.”
Though often linked and known as related to form of trickery. Anthropologist
define it as it deals solving a current problem by seeking the intervention of
the divine through the performance and offering of gifts. Example of this is
Native American Practice of rain dance.
This religious activity intends to gain from the divine practical answers for
any concern that may range for war plans to marriage choices. One of the
most popular forms of divination is the I-Ching an ancient Chinese numerical
system that is believed to predict future occurrences. This was highly popular
during the Warming states period of china, as military leaders utilized the I-
Ching to strategize campaigns.
Sorcery and Witchcraft.
In most societies whose witchcraft and sorcery are believed to
exist, practitioners of these type of religious acts are usually
magnified and ostracized as they are perceived to be bringers of
malevolence and misfortune.
A sorcerer inflicts harm on individuals by the sue of materials
such as dolls, wands and medicines, The practice of voodoo is an
example of this, as practitioner use materials related to the victim
such as hair or pieces of their clothing air cast sickness or pain on
The practice of witchcraft promotes the same effects with a
more difference in method. Unlike with Sorcery that uses material
to inflict harm, uses emotions and words of the practitioner to
inflict its victim.
Prayer, Feasts and Sacrifices
These activities promote and direct
interaction with the divine as individuals
or groups communicate their thoughts
and desires to the supernatural through
prayers, feasts and sacrifices
Human groups create various religious organizations
depending on the political and economic norms of their
society, Anthropologist associate religious organization
to the concept of cult. A cult is popularly define as a
small group of individuals who have extreme religious
beliefs and practices. On the contrary, Anthony Wallace,
an anthropologist argued that a cult is “not as group of
people, rather [is] an organized system associated with
cultural beliefs and practices which also make it a social
There are four types of cults: individualistic cults,
shamanistic cults, communal cults and ecclesiastical
Individualistic cults tend to be practiced in food-collecting
societies where equality is central to the group’s culture. The
practice of no role specialization in these groups further foster
the capacity of every individual to communicate with the
Shamanic cults are similar to the structure of individualist
cults except that this type believes in the shaman or medicine
man. This cult is also present in most egalitarian societies that
are based on economies focused on foraging, horticulture and
Communal cults similar to shamanistic cults which
allows a group direct access to the divine except for
situation wherein the expertise of a shaman or which is
needed. This cult is often present in societies with labor
Ecclesiastical cults is the most common feature, it
is having full ‘time religious practitioners referred to as
priests. This is type of cult is often present in highly
stratified societies where individuals have unequal
access to values and resources.