The Positive Effects of Religion
Religion is a large and diverse class of social practices. It serves several functions for people, including giving meaning and purpose to life, reinforcing social unity and stability, serving as an agent of social control of behavior, promoting physical and psychological well-being, and motivating people to work for positive social change.
Historically, scholars have treated religion as a social genus, present in all cultures. Some have used substantive definitions that base membership in this class on belief in disembodied spirits and cosmological orders, while others have worked with functional definitions that base membership in this class on the ways people organize their lives and bind them to communities.
These days, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that religious and spiritual practices can improve people’s health, academic achievement, economic well-being, self-control, and empathy for their neighbors and the planet. These benefits are often the result of the ways that these traditions support good habits, such as healthy eating and regular exercise, provide support through challenging times, and help people cope with stress and illness.
In addition to the benefits derived from these practices, there is also a growing body of evidence that shows that regular religious practice leads to greater generosity with money and time than nonreligious individuals, especially when those contributions are given to charities for the poor or to religious organizations. Many researchers have been surprised to find this, but this does not undermine the validity of research findings on the positive effects of religion.