There are two ways of defining religion in terms of its relationship to society. The first is concerned with what religion is, and is therefore substantive. It describes religion as beliefs and practices which assume the existence of supernatural beings. The second approach is functional, concerning itself with what religion does and how it affects the society of which it is part. Religion, according to this view, offers answers to otherwise unanswerable questions, or it binds people together in distinctive forms of collective action. Civil Religion, however, is substantively different from religion in the conventional sense, and functionally similar only with respect to the second role that religion performs, namely, integration. However, this single role is so important in modern societies that its importance cannot be undermined, and Civil Religion has emerged as a field of study under the umbrella of sociology. Before progressing any further, however, it is important to answer the question of what a Civil Religion is, and how its notion came about.
The eighteenth century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his On contrat social emphasised the need for a widespread ideology to support a government and its social contract with the people. Such an ideology would be a Civil Religion. Much later, sociologist ÃÂmile Durkheim in returned to the notion of a Civil Religion and emphasised the idea that religion, by definition, expresses social cohesion. In his book The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, he extended his understanding of the word 'religion' so as to include secular symbols and rituals that provide some of the sense of belonging, social solidarity and awe usually associated with religion and the sacred.
In primitive societies, religion was a sufficiently powerful agent to ensure conformity and social solidarity, at least in most cases. However, with...