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Religion's Effect on Society Throughout History

 

By Sohum Tripathi '24

Religion has been the defining factor for many civilizations throughout recorded
history; however, relative to humans’ presence on this planet, religion has been around
for a very small percentage of the time, especially with the emphasis and influence that
it has in society today. My purpose in writing this article is to explain how the first
religions developed, why people started believing these religions, and how their beliefs
affected both their contemporary world and our modern world in positive and negative
ways.


The first religion came into existence about four thousand years ago, when the
Aryans migrated from the Caucasus region and mixed with the local population,
introducing their own culture and assimilating the natives of the Indian subcontinent.
The fusion of Aryan and native cultures led to the birth of Hinduism, which embodies
many characteristics that can be seen in later religions, such as the worship of deities,
the belief that each human has a soul, and a goal of living by the Dharma’s principles.
Later religions, such as Ancient Greek and Norse paganism, would have characteristics
similar to those of Hinduism, notably the fact that each god represented a different
element or embodied certain characteristics unique to that specific god.


The impacts of Hinduism on Indian society and culture were profound and still
echo to this day in both positive and negative ways. According to Detetchter.com,
Hinduism does not require one to adhere to a specific god or deity because all deities
are manifestations of the single god Brahma; therefore, there is the freedom to follow a
deity that matches one’s specific principles and values because all deities with their
separate characteristics and appearances are essentially one God. Hinduism also
tolerates other religions and does not see any reason for people to be forcibly converted
because Hindus believe that the essence of God is in everyone and that all that is
required to connect with God is to perform spiritual activities such as yoga and
meditation. However, the caste system created by Hindu empires has oppressed people
for millennia, permanently branding some people as “untouchables” and condemning
others to a life of servitude. It is important to note that, because of the success of
capitalism in India and other South Asian countries, the caste system no longer
determines one’s social mobility and is no longer used as a benchmark by any South
Asian society.

Now that we have discussed the first religion and its impacts on culture and
society, it is imperative to discuss the effects of religion in general on modern society
and how it affects the world both positively and negatively. Religion’s impact on society
has been far-reaching and profound, shaping many of the cultural, economic, and
bureaucratic systems that are in place today. In recent history, religion has been used to
increase equality and social justice. According to the World Economic Forum, religious
leaders in 19th-century America played a crucial role in advancing equality and
encouraging less segregation. In addition, religion has impacted the way in which
humans view ethics in terms of both personal and business matters. According to the
Pew Research Center, eight of the most corrupt countries in the 2011 Corruption Index
had tight restrictions regarding freedom of religion. Concerning personal ethics, many
religious texts and doctrines have emphasized the importance of treating people as
equals and forcing them to abide by moral laws that are very similar to the unwritten
moral and ethical guidelines in place today. However, religion can also contradict
science and logic regarding fundamental questions such as how the Earth was formed
or whether evolution really took place. Hindering scientific progress is detrimental to
humanity because problems such as climate change and inefficient farming practices
can be solved through advancements in science and technology.


In conclusion, religion has had an enormous influence on society and culture,
and it remains to be seen whether life on this planet would have been more productive
and prosperous had it not been for the birth and development of all these religions.
Perhaps humanity would be ten thousand years ahead of our current technology, but at
what cost? Would we still have ethics and morality? And would science really fill the
void that religion filled, as scientific processes were not very advanced back then?
These unanswered questions are likely to remain unanswered because many aspects
of modern life, society, and culture have been derived from or affected by religion.
Religion is neither inherently good nor inherently bad. Like all other aspects of life,
religion has two sides to its story.