Religion is a broad term that can mean any organized system of beliefs, practices, and values that people use to give meaning and purpose to their lives. It can also refer to the rituals and traditions associated with a particular faith, including festivals, feasts, worship, prayer, and meditation. Most religions have a code of morality that teaches people how to treat others and the world around them.
Some sociologists analyze religion by looking at its impact on society. Emil Durkheim, for example, believed that religion binds people together (social cohesion), promotes consistent behaviour among members of a group (social control), and offers strength to people during times of stress or tragedy (morality).
Religious rituals can be intense experiences for many people. They may involve crying, laughing, screaming, trancelike conditions, and feelings of oneness with those around them. For some, they are life-changing and transformative. Others, however, simply serve to reinforce their belief in a higher power and the moral teachings that go with it.
Some critical theorists argue that religions help maintain patterns of social inequality by promoting the idea that poor people should be satisfied with their existing circumstances because they will receive their true reward in heaven. They also point to ways that religious institutions have been used to support oppressive monarchies and justify caste systems, for example.