Religion is a social construct. It unites people with shared interests, gives meaning in life, and may reduce the events of social pathologies. Religion cannot exist without a society to attract believers. The believers are influenced by the religion’s moral and cultural framework.
Religion is a complex and very diverse topic. There are roughly 4,300 religions practiced worldwide and each of them influences a person’s morals, values, behavior, response, and culture in a myriad of ways. Therefore, religion is a difficult concept to define. Since religion affects many aspects of our daily lives, is it a social construct?
A detailed review of why we consider religion a social construct follows. You will discover theories of two well-known figures explaining religion as a social construct, Timothy Fitzgerald (Social Constructionist) and Èmile Durkheim (Sociologist).
Let us dive right in!
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What Defines a Social Construct?
A social construct is a belief instigated and accepted by people. Social constructionism is a supposition in sociology that suggests that specific facts depend on collective ways of thinking about and representing the world that a group of people create jointly.
It doesn’t depend on objective reality but, instead, on the outcome of human interaction.
Why Is Religion a Social Construct?
Religion is a social construct because it consists of practices and beliefs that benefit and aid the wants and needs of society.
As defined by Social Scientists, the true definition of religion is an organized and integrated set of behaviors, beliefs, and norms focused on fundamental social values and needs.
Religion is an excellent example of cultural universality, too, since it is present in all societies, thus it is a social construct, in some means or another.
How Does Religion Affect Social Structure?
Religion adds moral order, joint goals, cultural boundaries, and justification of social hierarchies to our society. Religion creates social control and strengthens and upholds the established social order.
It gives people a purpose in life, promotes psychological and physical well-being, motivates people to better society, and brings about social change. Religion motivates people to be charitable and impacts and benefits the economy and political system.
While the topic of religion can be controversial, and not all practices of particular religions are considered good, it can help people learn moral behavior and abide by social norms and laws. Therefore, developing a society that consists of dutiful and civil members.
Without a doubt, religion promotes social harmony by bringing together and stabilizing nations and cultures. Research indicates that practicing religion decreases social problems such as crime, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, divorce, etc.
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What Is an Example of Social Dimensions in Religion?
We have established that religion is a social construct because it would not and cannot exist without society. Much like other practices, religion set forth a few social dimensions. Here are three standard social dimensions:
1. Religion Is Learned by Individuals
We have already “determined” or established our religion as children and practiced it frequently. Your religion is already “determined” at birth because parents usually raise their children according to their beliefs, moral values, and culture, i.e., religion. Parents believe that their kids will follow and practice the same religion they do.
As we grow older, we form our own perceptions and views of the world; thus, religion is not predetermined at birth, and no one is born with fixed religious beliefs.
Many children follow their parents’ religious views because of social influences and not biological elements. As people grow older and learn to shape their own perceptions about their religion and the religious behavior set out by their society.
There are many examples like how you can communicate with your god, how to engage in religious practices, and what to do when you encounter religious ceremonies and rituals.
Only the collective believers can guide you through these processes. So, without society, these rituals, ceremonies, and religious practices will not carry on from generation to generation.
2. Religion Can Change Over Time
Since religion is part of society, social change or societal shifts affect it over time. Humans determine the proper religious behavior, moral values, and culture to achieve harmony with members of the same group and their god or deity.
Certain religious beliefs have caused some uproar due to being immoral or offensive, but as our society changes, the basic principles of religion change too.
Although there is some improvement, people still struggle to bring about positive social change in many religions. For example, LGBTGIA+ rights and acceptance, the position of women in society, and eliminating toxic masculinity.
3. Religion is Associated with a Group
Centuries ago, people already made the judgment of what supernatural or divine being to worship and how worshipping this being would take place, and where. Once the group decides this, they will determine what behavior their god sees as acceptable or unacceptable.
There are a few common examples. Certain or all meat is forbidden in some religions, or you cannot eat it for a specific time. Men are permitted to have more than one wife (polygamy) in the Mormon religion, and in Christianity, marriage to only one spouse (monogamy) is authorized.
The group will also attempt to give meaning to symbols. The symbols’ significance will only be realized once the group jointly decides on an agreement. Symbols such as fire and water may differ from religion to religion and from group to group.
Timothy Fitzgerald: About the Social Construction of Religion
Timothy Fitzgerald is a Social Constructionist in religion and is well-known for his books on religious studies. Fitzgerald proposes that academics must abandon the concept of religion because it is not an actual entity but a rhetorical invention of the modern west.
He believes that religion is a modern myth and “believing in religion is like believing in chimeras”. To put it plainly, Timothy Fitzgerald firmly held the idea that religion as a discourse of power has a negative relation to secularism.
Despite the fact that it is proven that religion can positively influence people with regard to social interaction and behavior, Fitzgerald does not believe that religion has the power to change the behavior or actions of people entirely.
What Are Èmile Durkheim’s Functions of Religion in Society?
Èmile Durkheim was a French Sociologist whose goal was to prove that religion was a product of society and not divinely inspired. Durkheim wanted to identify the common aspects that religion focuses on and how they affect the people’s lives in the group/society.
He stated that: “religious representations are collective representations which express collective reality”. As I mentioned earlier, Durkheim proclaimed that religion encourages solidarity within society and provides people with a reason to live.
Seeing the pivotal role religion plays in the social system, he concluded that it gives people meaning in life, promotes togetherness, and brings about cohesion and control within society.
Individuals with shared interests can communicate and come together to establish social norms. This also means that religion can advance mental and physical health.
Èmile Durkheim aimed to explore religion to discover why religion is one of the dominating agencies of morality and togetherness.
He published a book: “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life,” before his death to, hopefully, educate others with his thoughts and knowledge of religion and society.
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Religion plays a crucial role in our lives and affects politics and the economy. Individuals with shared beliefs created all the religious activities, rituals, morals, and norms. Therefore, religion would not have existed without society to attract believers.
Religion is a social construct that, although we might not always agree with its tenants, unites people, reduces social pathologies, gives people purpose in life, and can contribute significantly to the improvement of communities, politics, and economies.
After earning his Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto, Stuart gained experience working with families in community mental health settings and in the child protection sector. Since becoming a father himself, Stuart now works in private practice offering psychotherapy services. FatherResource is an opportunity for Stuart to share what he learns on his journey as a father with a larger audience.