In Sociology the word ‘religion’ is used in a wider sense, than that is used in religious books. Thus some sociologists define religion as those institutionalized system of beliefs, symbols, value that provide groups of men with solution to the question of ultimate meaning. Though the religion is a highly personal thing, yet it has a social aspect and social role to play. It has been a powerful agency in society and performs many important social functions. According to A. Green, religion has three universal functions. These are:
(1) Religion explains individual suffering
Man does not live by knowledge alone. He is an emotional creature. Religion serves to the emotions of man in times of his sufferings and disappointment. On God religion puts faith and entertains the belief that some unseen power moves in mysterious ways to make even his loss meaningful. In this way religion gives release from sorrow and release from fear. It helps man to bear his frustration and integrate his personality.
(2) Religion enhances self-importance
Religion expands one’s self to infinite proportions. Man unites himself with the Infinite and feels ennobled. Society also gains from the self-flattery provided by religious belief. Religion assures a greater reward in the afterlife to worldly failures than to successful life. Such kind of assurance encourages members to continue to play their part in society.
(3) Religion comes as a source of social cohesion
Religion is the ultimate source of social cohesion. The primary requirement of society is the possession of social values by which individuals control the action of self and others and through which society is perpetuated. Science and technology cannot create this value. Religion is the foundation upon which these values rest. Children should obey their parents, should not tell lie, women should be faithful to men, people should be honest and Virtuous, are some of the social values which maintain social cohesion.
(4) Religion encourages social welfare
Religion has also performed some other services to humanity like the provision of work, the priesthood often dedicated to art and culture. The priesthood lays the foundation of medicine. It also fulfils the functions of scholars and scientists. Religion has served humanity through spreading of education and also creating the habit of charity among the people who open many charitable institutions like hospitals, rest houses, temples and to help the poor.
(5) Religion is the agency of social control
Religion provides a model for living. It upholds certain ideals and values. The believer imbibes these ideals and values in his life. Religion can help youth generation to become moral, disciplined and socialized citizens of society.
(6) Religion controls economic life
Max Weber was of the view that religion also controls the economic life. To Weber, capitalism grew in the Protestant nations like England, U.S.A. It did not grow in Italy and Spain where the people are Catholic. The Hindus lay great stress on spiritual progress than on material progress. Hence, materialism could not grow in India.
Thus, from the discussion we know that religion is the central element in the life of civilization. Throughout the ages it is a proof of its values. It has been the propagator of basic values and ethical code which provide cohesion to society and integration to personality. If one looks dispassionately into the charges against religion and admits all of them, in the end, he is constrained to believe that the article was worth the cost.