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Societal Functions of Religion According to Emile Durkheim and the Decline of Religion in the United States - Essay Example

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The reach of religion onto the different echelons and structures of a society depends on the influence it exerts on the members of that society.
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Societal Functions of Religion According to Emile Durkheim and the Decline of Religion in the United States
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Societal Functions of Religion According to Emile Durkheim and the Decline of Religion in the United s According to Emile Durkheim, religion plays three major roles in society:
Religion ensures "social cohesion" through the sharing of common values, rituals, and beliefs.
Religion facilitates the establishment of "social control" through the imposition of moral standards.
Religion provides a "sense of direction" by trying to answer existential questions such as the meaning and purpose of life.
These functions suggest that religion, through its influence on people's beliefs, transcends the spiritual realm and directly affects the physical world. The reach of religion onto the different echelons and structures of a society depends on the influence it exerts on the members of that society.
The U.S. has, in the past, been a very religious society. Nowadays, however, with the influx of immigrants from all parts of the world and media globalization, there has been increased pressure on the U.S. to accommodate with different perceptions of the world. The wealth that the U.S. has enjoyed over the past decades, the freedom of expression entrenched in the U.S. Constitution, and the acceptance of other religions into the American society have diluted the place of Christianity in the U.S. The decline of Christianity in the U.S. at the expense of other religions and secularism risks to threaten the American society if it fails to provide a compromise to people from other faiths or sharing other beliefs. Such risk exists because there could be clashes between people from different communities/ faiths (e.g. Northern Ireland). The situation, however, is not alarming because religion has been replaced in the U.S. by education and to some extent a sense of patriotism. To revert back to Emile Durkheim's theory of religion, patriotism, education, the "American dream", Hollywood, etc. now ensure some form of social cohesion in the U.S. through the sharing of common values. With regard to social control, the law enforcement system and the judiciary system are now recognized as legitimate institutions to deal with conflicts. In this modern U.S. society, religion has been relegated to the personal realm and people living in the U.S. now enjoy the freedom to choose the religion that will answer their existential thirst.
As mentioned above, many institutions have throughout the years replaced religion in order to ensure social cohesion in the U.S. One of the factors not discussed above is the family unit. The reason why the family unit was not mentioned earlier is because its impact cannot be measured on a broad and uniform basis, due to the difference in each family. Moreover, the decline of religion has also lead to the decline of the family unit. This is shown in the number of divorces that now plagues the American society. How can a weakening structure help to strengthen another weakening structure Reliance should not be put on families, but instead on education. Education will ensure that people stay informed. It will allow debates to take place and decisions to be taken based on logic and not "faith". Education is a cornerstone of the American society in many respects; it allows people from many cultures to meet and share ideas from early childhood; it ensures that people learn how to read and write, and thus allows them to think critically and defend their points of view; and it helps sustain prosperity by encouraging innovation and thus will allow the U.S. to maintain a good standard of living (conflict, racism, etc., happen most often when people are desperate or cannot provide for themselves or their families).
To conclude, although religion has lost some ground in the last few decades, I believe that is only for the best. In fact, religion has only been relegated to where it rightfully belongs, inside our souls. Education has replaced religion as the key element that maintains social cohesion. Education is key because it provides the underlying foundation for the American society. Without education, there would probably be no democracy, judiciary system, prosperity, to name just a few. Read More
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