This is the basic function of religion. Prayer, worship and meditation are the summary of religious experience. Through these means man expresses awe, reverence, gratitude and allegiance to the Almighty or the God, or the Supernatural Force.
When an individual comes into contact with the supernatural he undergoes some sort of peculiar, inexplicable experience. He converses with the divine through prayers. He forgets the worldly life and its problems. This religious experience ennobles the human desires, ideals and values. It facilitates the development of personality, sociability and creativeness.
2. Religion Provides Peace of Mind:
Religion provides for the individual the most desired peace of mind. At every crisis, personal or collective, religion is called in for consolation and peace of mind. It promotes goodness and helps the development of character.
In a world full of uncertainties, indefiniteness, dangers, insecurities and unhappiness, the need for safety and security is really great. Religion here acts as the healer of the ills of life.
It reduces one’s grievances to some extent. It gives the individuals emotional support in the face of uncertainty. It consoles them when they are disappointed. It reconciles them when they are estranged from the goals and norms of society. In doing this it supports established values and goals and reinforces the morale. It offers man inspiration, hope, faith, optimism and courage.
3. Religion Promotes Social Solidarity, Unity and Identity:
Religion upholds and validates the traditional ways of the life. More than that it unites people. It is known that a common faith, common value-judgements, common sentiments, common worship are significant factors in unifying people. By their participation in religious rituals and worship, people try to identify themselves as having something in common.
Religion affects an individual’s understanding of who they are (people) and what they are. As Davis points out, “Religion gives the individual a sense of identity with the distant past and the limitless future.”
As Thomas F. O ‘Dea says, “In periods of rapid social change and large-scale social mobility, the contribution of religion to identify may become greatly enhanced.” ” As A.W. Green has pointed out religion is “the supremely integrating and unifying force in human society.”
4. Religion Conserves the Value of Life:
Religion is an effective means of preserving the values of life. Religion defines and redefines the values. Moral, spiritual and social values are greatly supported by religion. It exercises a tremendous influence over the younger ones and their behaviour.
Through such agencies like the family and the Church, religion inculcates the values of life in the minds of the growing children. Further, as Thomas F. O’Dea says, “religion sacralises the norms and values of established society”. It maintains the dominance of group goals over individual impulses.”
5. Religion- As an Agent of Social Control:
Religion is one of the forms of informal means of social control. It regulates the activities of people in its own way. It prescribes rules of conduct for people to follow.
The conceptions of spirits, ghosts, taboos, souls, commandments, sermons, etc., control human action and enforce discipline. Ideas of hell and heaven have strong effect on the behaviour of people. Thus, religion has a great disciplinary value.
Religion has its own methods to deal with those individuals who violate its norms. It has its own ways to reintegrate the disobedient into the social group. Further religious sanctions are widely made use of to support the ethical codes and moral practices among many peoples.
6. Priestly Function of Religion:
By performing its priestly function religion contributes to the stability and order of the society. Religion offers a kind of relationship with the beyond through different kinds of worship and beliefs. By this it provides the emotional ground for a new security. Through its authoritative teaching of beliefs and values, it provides similar points of opinion and avoids conflicts. It contributes to the maintenance of the status quo.
7. Religion Promotes Welfare:
Religion renders service to the people and promotes their welfare. It appeals to the people to be sympathetic, merciful and co-operative. It rouses in them the spirit of mutual help and co-operation. It awakens the philanthropic attitude of the people.
It reinforces the sense of belonging to the group. It promotes art, culture and provides means for the development of character on the right lines. Various religious organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Seva Pratishthana, Ramakrishna Mission, Arya Samaj, Brahma Samaj, The Society of Jesus, etc., are engaged in various social, educational, aesthetic, cultural, civic, medical, and other activities.
8. Religion Provides Recreation:
Religion promotes recreation through religious lectures, Kirtanas, dramas, dance, music, bhajanas, puranas, harikathas, fairs, festivials, musical concerts, art exhibitions and so on. It tries to make men sorrowless and fearless. Various religious festivals and rituals can provide relief to the disturbed mind.
9. Religion Explains Individual Suffering and Helps to Integrate Personality:
Man has never lived by knowledge alone. Man is a rational as well as an emotional creature. The things for which men strive in this world are in some measure denied to them. If the aim is to Propagate a faith, persecution may bring failure. If the aim is to achieve fame, a mediocre career may bring disillusionment.
If the aim is to become rich in business, heavy loss in it may bring disheartenment. With a multiplicity of goals no individual can escape frustration. But the culture provides him with goals that anybody can reach.
These are goals that transcend the world of actual experience, with the consequence that no evidence of failure to attain them can be conclusive. If the individual believes that he has gained them that are sufficient. All he needs is sufficient faith.
The greater his disappointment in this life, the greater his faith in the next. Religion tries to give release from the very thing it instills, guilt. Ritual means are freely provided for wiping away guilt, so that one can count on divine grace.
10. Religion Enhances Self-importance:
Religion expands the self to infinite proportions. Religious belief relates the self to the infinite or Cosmic Design. Through unity with the infinite the self is ennobled, made majestic. Man considers himself the noblest work of God with whom he shall be united. His self thus becomes grand and elevated.
It is true, that the rapid developments in the field of civilisation, in physical and biological sciences, have affected the functions, of religion to a great extent. Some of the age old religious beliefs have been exploded by the scientific investigations. Science has often shaken the religious faith.
The growing secular and the rationalist attitude has posed a challenge, a serious question—Can the society rely on the acceptance of certain ethical and moral principles without believing in the existence of a spiritual or superempirical world?
Still, it is understandable that the institution of religion is so deep-rooted and long-lasting that it will continue to function in the near future withstanding the dangers of changes and the ravages of time.