The Relationship Between Religion & Society


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The relationship between religion and society


As far back as history can document, religious belief has been one of the most prevalent and inescapable features of human society. Due to the omnipresence of religion across the entire world, it naturally plays a role in influencing many aspects of society which have assisted in shaping and re-shaping society into what it is today. This essay will analyse and discuss what the concept of religion is, its relationship with society as well as its significant influence over human lives. This essay will also analyse what constitutes human integrity and its necessary function within society. The analysis of religion and human integrity within this essay aims to develop into the investigation of the relevance of religion for cultivating human integrity by analysing and subsequently reaching a conclusion with regards to the degree of relevance religion has when it comes to cultivating human integrity within society.

The concept of religion

The concept or idea of religion is a complex matter that has played a role in determining worldviews since the beginning of time, ranging from influencing the positionality of societies living in isolated tribes to societies belonging to extensive empires (Jensen, 2014: i). Émile Durkheim best defines religion as he aims for a neutral description, “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into a single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them” (Durkheim, 2001: 46). In this essay however, the term religion refers to the concept of having a religious belief system and not a particular belief system (unless otherwise stated) in order to point out that notwithstanding their seeming differences, religions across the world have many things in common (Jensen, 2014: vii). For example, it is evident that cultures of different religious beliefs across the world all, for the most part, agree that it is immoral to commit murder. No matter one’s belief, it cannot be denied that religion exists throughout the world and has maintained an integral position imbedded within the history of human culture as a determinant in societal structure since the earliest of times (Jensen, 2014: vii). In modern day society, despite how far society has evolved from early life on earth, religion still remains a dominant sphere of influence over human behaviour and thought (Jensen, 2014: viii). Some people believe that religion is a particular social construction that requires certain social obligations, which in essence is the claim that religion is the construct of modern ideologies which is used as a tool to classify and dominate the political aspects of a society (Jensen, 2014: viii).

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What is the relationship between religion and society

In the contemporary world, religion has become a somewhat perplexing phenomenon on both a social and individual level (Jensen, 2014: 1). In general, it is linked to favourable human qualities such as morality, ethics and spirituality, although it is also negatively affiliated with qualities such as tradition that is stifling, superstition, stunting human progress as well as rejecting scientific knowledge (Jensen, 2014: 1). Historically religion in its many various forms has commanded great authority over our minds as well as bodies, societies and cultures with its looming presence over human history (Jensen, 2014: 1). However, it is in more recent times that the focus on religion has shifted from being a power that ought to be obeyed and instead becoming an object of study (Jensen, 2014: 1).

It should also be noted that “religion” is merely term used to refer to a concept that covers a wide range of human behaviour both theoretically as well as theoretically, and not a specific fact of the matter (Jensen, 2014: 1). According to Durkheim’s view, the most important aspect of religion is its creation of a “moral community” (Jensen, 2014: 3). This perspective of religion is noteworthy for once this point of view can be understood, can one begin to understand the relationship between religion and society. This is due to the fact that people often turn to their belief system for guidance when it comes to moral dilemmas and how one should behave in order to fulfil their human needs in a virtuous manner and thus maintain societal peace and order.

How religion governs morals and its relevance

Although morality is partially innate, people still require an aid to develop and strengthen these morals in order to fully develop and possess these traits (Haidt and Joseph, 2006: 1). According to the Oxford Dictionary, the moral concept is defined as “concerned with or derived from the code of behaviour that is considered right or acceptable in a particular society” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2018). Therefore it can be said that morals function as the tool by which we guide ourselves and how society is governed, thus due to the large role religion plays in governing these morals, religion is of extreme relevance to society. As soon as humans began writing, they wrote about morality with many of the earliest texts on morality consisting of lists containing prohibitions and laws (Haidt and Joseph, 2006: 2). A relevant fact to notes is how the approach of moral education is achieved by moulding intuitions and emotions in a nurturing manner through religion rather than by dictating explicit principles (Haidt and Joseph, 2006: 2).

Religious belief informs and structures the deep-rooted values and worldviews that people hold (PUTNAM: 493). Although religion acts as a potentially divisive tool across the world, the commonalities shared across the many belief systems that exist are what makes religion relevant in modern day society (PUTNAM: 493). Professor W. W. Bartley argues that morality and religion “are so intertwined that an attempt to carry through the distinction amounts to something like an attempt to analyse the unanalysable”; an argument he uses to substantiate his belief that religion and morality are inseparable phenomena (Klemke, 1975: 38). He goes further to say that humans are unable to act morally nor evaluate situations where morality comes into question without first possessing a deeper understanding of our surroundings as well as ourselves (Klemke, 1975: 39).

In society when such issues of morality arise, people often tend to refer back to religion for guidance as morality is one of the pillars it is founded upon, thus substantiating the claim that religion is indeed relevant for the greater good of society.What is human integrity?According to the Oxford Dictionary, integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles (Oxford Dictionaries, 2018). Integrity can be described as an “internal state of being”, that helps us towards making moral choices (Killinger, 2010: 27). Although internal, integrity is a personal choice of uncompromising and consistent obligation to honour ethical, moral and spiritual principles and values (Killinger, 2010: 44). In order to acquire integrity, individuals must be prepared to fight the temptation to selectively focus on aspects or information that solely fit their own experience, narrow views or self-serving desires as integrity cannot exist in saying one thing but acting another (Killinger, 2010: 45).

Why is integrity necessary? As society evolves, it is becoming an alarmingly valueless society wherein we measure our success primarily by power, status and prestige (Killinger, 2010: 30). Thus, now more than ever, the survival of human integrity is vital for societal wellbeing. As an individual’s consciousness of their integrity grows, they begin to become dependent, at a rate of exponential growth, on the recognition they receive by the real-world of their social environment (Honneth, 1992: 189). Due to this increased sense of self-worth, humans chase after this recognition and thus grow towards the ideal societal well-being that constitutes of every one living in a moral manner. Human integrity is necessary for society and societal well-being as it requires us to be socially aware and other-directed as well as to welcome professional and personal responsibilities (Killinger, 2010: 46).

The values associated with integrity encourage humans to be honest in all that we do and to remain committed to a lifelong quest for justice and truth (Killinger, 2010: 46). Integrity is necessary because it requires us to become involved on a personal level when it comes to actively choosing between right or wrong (Killinger, 2010: 48). For example, if an individual was to do the right thing for the right reasons, then they motivation surely stems from the desire to uphold their reasoned/religious beliefs and societal principles and values, and not due to a self-centred desire to impress or manipulate others (Killinger, 2010 49).By choosing to be a person of integrity, an individual chooses to stand up for what they believe in instead of merely standing by (Killinger, 2010: 49). For example, if a person of integrity witnesses an injustice, it is their duty as a person of integrity to state their stance on the matter and proceed with some form of corrective action (Killinger, 2010: 49).

By choosing to be an individual of integrity, an individual chooses to be predictable as well as reliable, to be prudent in their choices and once they have committed to a task to follow through with their commitment until completion (Killinger, 2010: 49). Therefore, society would be far better off if everyone chose to nurture their integrity as it would create an idyllic environment. The relevance of religion for cultivating human integrityIn contrast to the internal state of being that is integrity, ethics and morality are values that are imposed on us from an external source that we acknowledge and accept for the greater common good according to societal standards (Killinger, 2010: 27). Consumerism and materialism foster the evils of list, envy, greed, and shame – all of which work against the prosperity of integrity (Killinger, 2010: 30).

Therefore, religion is necessary for the cultivation of human integrity as the morals and values upon which most religious belief systems are founded upon encourage behaviour associated with integrity, such as honesty, accountability, humility, and so forth. When confronted with doubt or hardship, people often turn to their religion for guidance and to make a conscious decision to follow a moral path in order to free ourselves from temptation (Killinger, 2010: 34). Henceforth, it can be noted that religion, of any belief system, is necessary within society to help cultivate and nurture human integrity as human’s by nature are weak and require a system to which they can turn to when tempted to behave immoraly.Upon the loss of integrity, a great amount of trauma and angst is usually involved which can cause an individual to feel lost and negative towards themselves (Killinger, 2010: 43).

Integrity can be lost any vast number of ways, for example, through the term “disrespect” (Honneth, 1992: 189). The term “disrespect” designates varying degrees of psychological trauma to an individual, and the blatant degradation and humiliation that is associated with the loss of respect is what drives an individual toward achieving the status of “respect” (integrity) that they once enjoyed (Honneth, 1992: 189). This is where religion steps forward, for where matters of right and wrong are not immediately apparent, or the truth evades us, integrity requires that we dedicate a good amount of time and effort on moral reflection (Killinger, 2010: 46). In general, when moral reflection is required, people turn to their religion for guidance and answers to the trials and tribulations they face. As we are not born with integrity, but rather it develops as we do, having a solid belief system of strong morals and values to rely on to support the healthy development of integrity (Killinger, 2010: 47).

Thus, without a religious belief system to refer to for guidance, there would be many grey areas when it comes to right or wrong, morals and principles that people would have no sense of direction and the development of integrity would be stunted if not lost and society would begin to spiral out of order.With the rise of global corruption scandals on the rise, our faith in humanity begins to justifiably fade (Killinger, 2010: 62). Often, the enormity of these wrongdoings causes society to question whether or not our standards of behaviour are diminishing to a dangerously low and unethical level and whether societal institutions have grown to be apathetic in the wake of all the materialism and greed rampant in the world (Killinger, 2010: 63). Such questioning should cause people to question how far societal institutions have let their relative belief systems fall by the wayside in the wake of worldly acquisitions. Society should therefore, take a step back and re-evaluate their priorities and the position of religious morals principles within their code of conduct.


Thus, to conclude, throughout this essay it has been shown that religion, of any belief system, is necessary for the cultivation of human integrity as without the morals that religion perpetuates, people would not have no guide to help them determine what is right and what is wrong and society would transcend into a state of chaos. This essay also showed how religion is relevant to society by discussing the relevance of the relationship between religious morals and the upkeep of societal standards. The subsequent analysis of these components therefore advocated for the relevance of religion with regards to cultivating and maintaining human integrity.


  1. Durkheim, É. 2001. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, C. Cosman (trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Honneth, Axel. 1992. “Integrity and Disrespect: Principles of a Conception of Morality Based on the Theory of Recognition.” Political Theory 20, no. 2. London: Sage Publications, Inc.
  3. Jensen, J. 2014. What is Religion?. London: Routledge.Killinger, Barbara. 2010. Integrity: Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reason. Montreal; Kingston; London; Ithaca: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
  4. Klemke, E. (1975). On the Alleged Inseparability of Morality and Religion. Religious Studies, 11(1), 37-48. Retrieved from Dictionaries | English. (2018). English | Oxford Dictionaries. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2018].
  5. Putnam, R. and Campbell, D. (2012). American grace. New York [u.a.]: Simon & Schuster.1

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