Religion is a unified system of thoughts, feelings, and actions shared by groups of people. This system teaches beliefs about spiritual concepts, forces, and powers beyond human control. Religion also has codes of behavior that dictate how people should live their lives and treat others. It includes ceremonies, prayers, and other rituals that are practiced regularly.
Sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1912) analyzed religion in terms of its impact on society. He believed that religion provides differing degrees of social cement, binds people together (social cohesion), promotes behaviour consistency and morality, and gives strength for life’s transitions and tragedies (meaning and purpose). Durkheim also believed that religion helps to stabilize societies and that they would fall apart without it.
Edward Burnett Tylor (1871-1928) argued that defining religion in a narrow way, such as belief in God or belief in spirits, was inaccurate and inappropriate because these definitions excluded many cultures from the category of “religion”. He instead defined religion as the belief in a supreme being or other spiritual beings.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) believed that religion is a reflection of working-class economic suffering and that it justifies the status quo, promoting inequality. He called religion the opium of the people.
Other sociologists have analyzed religion in more functional terms. Charles Cooley characterized it as a microfunction: a psychological substitute for instinct in the subrational world. This functional approach was augmented by the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and Luce Irigaray, as well as by many Continental philosophers who are not normally considered to be sociologists.