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Religion from its Genesis to its Modern Reverberations: Mapping the Spiritual and Secular Landscapes

Updated: Apr 15

This article aims to transverse the concepts of religion by exploring its origin, evolution,the current scenario and to explore how religion has travelled through the domains of personal to social and then back again. Also examining how religion and politics have intermingled with each other. Religion either spiritual, monotheistic or polytheistic has a set of rules which are binding on its followers. Through the realm of this article, we shall try to find out are those rules sacred or if they were developed over time. This article seeks to determine whether religion is a beacon of hope, an instrument for societal control or both in different contexts by studying several sources.


Introduction:

According to the Journal of Religion by Robert E. Hume, Religion is the organisation of humans in groups with the expression of devotion towards a superhuman or divine power that has control over them and or the whole universe. Religion is essentially a belief that this whole world has a creator and is governed by that being's laws and will. This is a very academic definition of religion, and although true it doesn't showcase the intricacies that come with a concept of this magnitude. It is very difficult to define religion in a single line because it has a great hold and effect on people's lives. Thus, it would be appropriate to adopt the definition of religion as a socio-cultural structure with a clearly defined set of laws and regulations centred around a deity or supernatural force.The situations of societal expression and individual hopes have the same amount of effect on religion as religion has on them proving that both are intertwined and tethered to each other but that may not have been the case or reality before the first human civilisations were being born as religion as a concept is somewhat of a collective and cerebral nature. How religion originated, its evolution and its effect and role in the contemporary world are some of the things talked about in this article.


Religion Through the Ages: a Brief Overview

Although there is no concrete evidence of exactly when humans became religious, the first ever connection to religion or religious activities is said to be found in burials and burial processes found in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa which are said to be around 100,000 years old but those are entirely speculative. Religion is said to have started with the onset of the first human civilizations in the subtropics of the world like the Egyptian, Indus Valley, Mesopotamian even the Aztec civilizations, initially being just spiritually centred around things like nature, forests, spirits etc. This kind of organisation still exists today in the form of paganistic, wiccan and tribal settings which essentially consider Nature as the divine or the object of worship stemming from the belief that nature is the primary provider of sustenance so it must be worshipped, also having deities springing from nature in the form of spirits of different aspects like Water spirit, forest spirit etc.


However, organised religion, which can be traced back to the Neolithic Revolution(The onset of agriculture which prompted humans to transform from hunter-gatherers to settled agrarian society being a contributory factor for the formation of settled society) approximately 11,000 years ago, appears to be the predominant form of religion practised today. Religion began as an effect of society being formed where there had to be a system of control or contribution to be set to prevent the society from clashing into an unruly one because of the interactions between people. Living in society brings many new perspectives to light, such as ideas and opinions that are beneficial at first but ultimately detrimental to the foundation of civilization. In order to control these disruptive notions, religion was created to suggest that each of us has a duty to uphold a higher power, the failure of which would have disastrous consequences.


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Evolution and the contemporary role:

The religion and religious fervour we see in contemporary times are far different yet very similar in roots to the historical ones. One thing to note here is that the religion of today doesn't pertain to one singular religion or sect but religion as a socio-cultural entity as a whole. Religion is believed to have sprung from human emotions of fear, hope and uncertainty. There had to be a thing that kept a check on these emotions and provided structure and certainty to human lives and civilizations barring them from chaos, and that turned out to be faith which assured society that there is a being that is taking care of the future and also held them in fear that if they behave supposedly “unholy” or “unjust” there will be consequences. This role couldn’t have been fulfilled entirely by societal norms and rules due to the absence of a sense of power or authority inherently in the societal system if it isn’t backed by the power of something and that something came to be faith and God because the heads of society were also human so there was the need of something to provide them with the ordainment to be legitimate and authoritative. 


Religion has played a profound and enduring role in shaping the fabric of human societies throughout history. Its influence extends across cultural, ethical, and political dimensions, moulding the collective consciousness of communities and individuals. All these emotions and fears were somehow cultivated by the people supposedly in charge to form a defined set of rules and regulations to keep people within bounds that they could control. Religion although being a very personal matter hasn’t been so in both the historical context and the context of present times. Throughout history, the relationship between religion and politics has been complex and multifaceted. In ancient times, many a time societies have embraced a form of theocracy – a model where religious leaders or institutions wield political power. 

A good example of such a stance is provided by the Ancient Israelite society(Ancient Israel was a tribal society founded on lineage and supported by an agricultural economy. Gender rules and boundaries were deeply ingrained in almost every aspect of life, as they are in many other cultures). The examination of such historical instances of theocratic governance, although olden is important – it can provide insights into how religion and political structures have intertwined to shape societal norms and institutions.


This separation is often rooted in the desire to create a space for diverse 

religious beliefs and ensure the protection of individual freedoms. That is why a good 

understanding of the historical evolution of this separation is crucial for contextualising contemporary debates surrounding the role of religion in politics. Still, religion continues to play a significant role in shaping political ideologies and movements. Whether through the advocacy of specific moral values or the alignment of religious communities with particular political agendas, the influence of religion on contemporary politics is undeniable. Thus, religious institutions often serve as catalysts for political activism, advocating for social justice, human rights, or specific policy changes. Understanding how religious organizations engage in political activism provides insights into the ways in which faith-based groups contribute to shaping political landscapes. 


The way in which we see the current state of affairs in the world it is clearly seen that religion and politics are intermingled in such a way that it has become a very difficult task to separate and see where one begins and the other starts, we can clearly see the examples in different ways be it the religiously motivated terrorist aggressors all over the world justifying killing, maiming and torture of innocent people just because of them being associated with a different religion or the example of religiously motivated wars and battles be it the “Holy Crusades” of the olden times or the recent issues of “Yugoslavian Conflict” “Wahhabi War” and even “Israel-Palestine”, where does one draw the line that religion ends here and politics starts? 


Religion in the contemporary world is being used as a motivator for spreading political propaganda and it's not an isolated event, this has been going on throughout the world and across all political groups for their vote banks because everyone knows that a person stops thinking logically and cognitively when there seems to be a talk about his God and faith and people in charge use this weakness of people for manipulation and gratification. This is a very ironic situation because the birth of religion is said to be from intelligence and cognitive thinking but now religion is the thing used to mask the very things it sprang from.


Image credit: Fine Art America


Conclusion:

Although religion might be used in the current scenario for a whole lot of things that it wasn't meant to be still it cannot be done away with because human society needs a glimmer of hope and future in their minds and hearts or the whole world and society might collapse. But what could be done is some mindful thinking and logical reasoning on the parts of common people to think if they feel something is wrong that would a divine power want this unnecessary bloodshed or violence which ensued and just try to be respectful and tolerant towards the faith of all citizens and people although there might be some disagreements we need to understand that we all are linked with each other and meant to be able to live our lives without questions and threats from anyone. One interesting thing that can be said about religion and God is lines by the seventeenth-century French Mathematician and Philosopher Blaise Pascal that “deciding whether or not to believe in God is essentially engaging in a wager. If we choose to believe as if there is a God and we get to the end and it turns out there isn’t, it’s not such a big deal. If we bet there isn’t a God and get to the end only to find out there is a God, we’ve lost the ability to experience eternal bliss”. These words also surprisingly show the same emotions that religion was said to have begun with which are fear and hope.


 

By Yug Singh Chauhan

Yug Singh Chauhan is a First Year English Hons. student from Hindu College. He has an avid interest in journaling,literature politics and economics along with the aspirations in field of Journalism.

 

References:

RAIS Journal for Social Sciences | VOL. 7, No. 2, 2023

ISSN 2574-0245 (Print) | ISSN 2574-1179 (Online) | DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.10206899

The Social Role of Religion in Contemporary India by Ainslie T. Embree

THE ORIGIN OF RELIGION AND THE WORLD’S 

MAJOR BELIEF SYSTEMS by Anna Pałczyńska

Bellah, R. N. (1964). Religious Evolution. American Sociological Review, 29(3), 358–374. https://doi.org/10.2307/2091480


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