The Role of Religion in Modern Society


Religion teaches us how to behave, how to deal with difficult situations and how to cope with death. It also provides a moral framework, a sense of community and connection to tradition. Almost all religions encourage good behavior, including helping the sick and needy. Some research suggests that people who are religious have better health and well-being than those who are not.

The term religion was coined in antiquity to describe a set of beliefs and practices that generate solidarity among a group of people and provide orientation in life. It has remained popular in Western culture, but one could use it for other social formations as well.

For many years, scholars who studied religion used monothetic definitions that assumed that every phenomenon that accurately described a religion would share a property that distinguishes it from all other phenomena. More recently, scholars have begun to favor polythetic definitions that recognize multiple properties that are common to religions.

Whether polythetic or monothetic, most of today’s definitions of religion treat the phenomenon as a social genus, not as a collection of individual cases. This approach reflects the fact that we know much more about the general characteristics of a group of people than we do about the details of their individual lives.

The president should appoint, and the Senate should confirm, judges who are sensitive to the role of religion in society. It should not be crowded out of virtually all activities in which government is involved.

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