Religion of the 21st Century
Faith and religion is the backbone and source of security for every society. When in danger, people turn to religion to seek protection and comfort. However, experts and researchers consider the study of religion as the most challenging enterprise, placing special demands on the society and minds of the people. Now you might wonder,
What is Religion?
Religion is a cultural system consisting of shared beliefs and rituals, which we consider holy, or sacred, absolute and worthy of special reverence. It consists of people who deal with similar concerns about their life as well as their fate after death.
In some of the traditions and cultures around the world, people express these relations based on their relationship with the gods and spirits. However, in humanistic and naturalistic forms, people express their relationship in the form of attitudes towards other humans and the natural world.
Religions in the Real World
If you look back to the traditional societies, you will find religion played the central part in the social life of every society. Often the religious symbols and rituals integrated with the material and culture of the society in the form of paintings, carvings, dance, literature and even storytelling.
If you analyse deep into the small cultures, you might find the absence of professional priesthood. Still, certain individuals held high knowledge about the religious and sometimes even about the magical practices. Among the several specialists, shaman, (a word originated among the North American Indians) is one of the most common forms of traditional religion.
A shaman establishes a direct relationship with the spirits or abnormal forces through certain rituals. One can refer to the shaman as a magician rather than a religious leader. Often we find individuals consulting them when dissatisfied and failing to accept the things provided by the community’s religious rituals.
Totemism and Animism are to forms of religion common in smaller cultures or among the tribes. While Totemism considers certain species of animals and plants to possess supernatural powers, Animism believes in the spirits or ghosts, who live with us in the same world.
Besides these religions, followed by smaller cultures and tribes, most of us belong to either of the famous religions present on the earth. While some of us follow the monotheist religions, others belong to the polytheistic religions. Judaism is the oldest among the three monotheistic religions; others include Islam and Christianity. All three religions originated in the Middle East, and each of them influenced the others.
The religions of the Far East include Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. However, you will find sharp contrasts between the religions of the Middle East and those of the Far East. Among these, Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world, with the core beliefs dating back to some 6000 years. Whereas, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism form the ethical religions of the Far East.
Importance of Religion in the 21st Century
In the modern world, religion has taken a new shape and has started to drift and fade. However, I feel that religion still has importance in our society. Why? We consider religion as “cultural universal” and we fulfil several necessities in our society. Although religion can tear us apart from one another, yet people make a bond based on their religion. Often we fail to understand certain events, which we, later on, explain based on religion.
Even in the present world, religion preserves and solidifies our society, thereby reinforcing the collective unity or a group or community. When we share the same religion, we share a unity and interpret the similar meaning of life, which later on helps in the development of better morals among people in a society.
Moreover, people even in the 21st Century still prefer developing social cohesion through the practices of rituals including reciting prayers in the honour of God, worshipping at the institutions such as visiting the church, temples, mosques and other places of worship. The people following Islamism perform Namaz and other observances and ceremonial practices by different groups.
Even today, religion helps in forming a moral community and provides a system of beliefs, around which we gather to belong to something greater. Moreover, members of a community share moral bonding and everyday life. Through the moral community, we give rise to the social community by symbolising the sacred, thereby supporting the ordinary aspects of social life. Religion, after all, legitimates the society, regardless of the time in which we live.
The conservatives value religion as a means of protection. On the other hand, the radicals, the critiques of religion, often recognise religion as an aspect that helps in establishing order in the society. We follow certain religious beliefs and practices. Have you ever wondered, why? It’s because religion influences our conduct and keeps us to follow “a line” by ascribing the folkways and mores.
Religion influences and sanctions our behaviours in society, and hence various taboos have religious sanctions. For instance, the followers of Judaism and Islamism prohibits the consumption of pork. Similarly, in Hinduism, the consumption of cows is a taboo and hence those who break the taboo receive punishment.
Have you ever noticed that we follow certain customs while participating in any ceremonies? Why? Because we follow a certain religion, which further helps us in performing particular ceremonies and rituals to the rites of birth, death, marriage and other events of life. These rituals give meaning and social significance in our life.
What do you do at times of personal and social crisis?
Yes, we seek a source of solace and comfort for our community and us. Now, who gives this solace and comfort? Religion gives us emotional support, consoles us and provides moral strength during defeats, personal losses, natural calamities and unjust treatments. The concept of “karma” among the Hindus and prayer among Christians provide fortitude and strength.
We can say that although some people and researchers have raised questions and criticised the existence of religion in modern society, yet it continues to play a significant role in our lives. Not only in the primitive and traditional societies but also the modern and technologically advanced societies of the 21st Century, people believe immensely in the religious beliefs, rites and values. Don’t you think so? If not, then why do we still follow our traditions and rites during the passage of our lives?