Function of Religion From a Meta-Paradigm Perspective

By MadQueen

All religious systems are fundamentally the same regardless of specific interpretations and inherent values within the paradigm. These systems exist, or are created as a means to fulfill basic psychological needs of the individual. The subjective parameters internalized through religious learning and indoctrination create a foundational basis for community and a guide for social interaction. There are multiple associations in these systems that crossover into one another, including the concept of unique insight or truth. Despite self held difference and propagated superiority, these systems essentially function in the same ways.

Throughout history religion has played a defining role within human society and culture. The profound effect these systems of perception have had on our species can be seen in every field of study. The arts are home to the more obvious examples. From architectural ornamentation such as statues and Gothic cathedrals to traditional paintings that hang on museum walls, religious symbolism can be seen in a myriad of forms. Sciences are effected by not only the opposition that religions often provide to scientific deduction, but also as a pool of inspiration from which many hypotheses are derived. Indeed “where did we come from” and “where are we going” are two questions explored by each. Our very nature has defined, and in turn been defined by such.

While the ultimate reason the human race has devised religious systems is not universally agreed upon, it is generally accepted among anthropologists that it may be a combination of four specific psychological and sociological factors. These conditions of invention are: a need to understand intellectually, a reversion back to childhood feelings, anxiety and uncertainty, and the need for community. The first three conditions are theorized to have been perpetuated to fill psychological needs while the final condition, the need for community, is thought in contrast to fulfill sociological needs. Due to all of the proposed conditions having evidence in history and current society as contributing factors to the basic function of religions, it may very well be the different combinations and emphasis by region or culture that sets the stage for the evolution of the system itself (Ember, 2007).

Bernhard Hommel and Lorenza S. Colzato examine some of the psychological functions of religion in their article “Religion As a Control Guide: On The Impact Of Religion On Cognition” in the Journal of Religion and Health. One potent example is that research has shown that those who believe in God as a loving, caring and forgiving being tend to have higher self esteem. While on the other hand those who believe God is vengeful and has abandoned them tend to have lower self esteem and quality of life. This is a good example of some of the profound effects on human psychology and mental health that religion can have.

Culture itself is a shared system of beliefs, values, behavior and idiosyncratic ritual. These things become inherent in the lives of those within the culture and internalized by the individual. This ultimately affects their perception of events. Religions also affect perception with the same fundamental components: belief, values, acceptable behavior and idiosyncratic ritual  (Hummel & Colzato, 2010). Systematized perception alteration through religion ensures similar reactions to external stimuli in large groups of people. This creates a shared bond of similar ideas and fulfills our sociological need for community (Ember, 2007).

There seems to be a cultural resurgence of the idea of a human community. You can drive down the road and see bumper stickers that say “Coexist” on any given day. The Unitarian Univeralist Church is another example. A combination of two older christian religions this faith is quite new. Both Univeralists and Unitarians consolidated in 1961 to form a congregation that values a direct, personal connection with god, rational thinking, and the idea that all people will eventually be reconciled with the creator (“History”).

This overlap of religious systems is commonplace. For example two of the worlds biggest, seemingly opposed religions in fact have a same root story. Christianity bases the lineage of the savior of man through Issac, the son of Abraham and his wife Sarah. While in contrast while Islam traces the lineage of their savior from back to the same father, their mothers are different. Islam claims the true lineage to be through Ishmel, the son of Hagar. Hagar was was Sarah’s handmaiden who after following orders was later to be cast out by her mistress (NASB, Genesis: 21). As time progresses and information is more widely accessible more and more people are drawing parallels between religious systems, further solidifying a “Human Community” within consensual society at large.

One argument that is often made in contrary to the idea of religions all having the same purpose is based on the fundamentalist mentality of self superiority. Often claiming that the religion they belong to is the “One True Religion” and that their God is the “One True God”. This in itself again illustrates a commonality even at the highly indoctrinated fundamentalist level of any given system. It is these common benchmarks that regardless of the individual beliefs of the religion in question, support the idea of similar function within a meta-paradigm.

As we explore the fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology we can examine some of the most obvious examples of the function of religion in the life of the individual and society itself. From the psychological and sociological needs these systems fulfill to the overlaps that their core beliefs share, religion both divides and combines. Regardless of the paradigm religion creates an internalized idea, shared experience, and consensual moral system. Even if their idiosyncratic methods differ from religion to religion, they all function in the same ways and are therefore on a meta-paradigm level all exactly the same albeit contextually different in comparison of details.


  • Ember, Carol R and Melvin Ember. Cultural Anthropology. New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc., (2007) Print
  • Harold Koenig, et al. “Beliefs About God, Psychiatric Symptoms, And Evolutionary Psychiatry.” Journal Of Religion & Health 49.2 (2010): 246-261 Web.
  • “History.” Unitarial Univeralist Association of Congregations, October 22, 2012. Web.
  • Hommel, Bernhard, and Lorenza S. Colzato. “Religion As A Control Guide: On The Impact Of Religion On Cognition.” Zygon: Journal Of Religion & Science 45.3 (2010) Web.
  • “New American Standard Bible” The Lochman Foundation, n.d. Web


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