Great Accomplishments in Religious Studies

The Effects of Religion on Society

Thank goodness, research is the backbone of the production of all knowledge, and there are certainly findings in social science literature on the positive consequences that flow from the practice of religion.

For example, there is evidence that:

  • The strength of the family unit is intertwined with the practice of religion—churchgoers are more likely to be married, less likely to be divorced or single, and more likely to manifest high levels of satisfaction in marriage. Church attendance is, in fact, the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness.
  • The regular practice of religion helps poor people move out of poverty. Regular church attendance, for example, is particularly instrumental in helping young people escape the poverty of inner-city life.
  • Religious belief and practice contribute substantially to the formation of personal moral criteria and sound moral judgment.
  • Regular religious practice generally inoculates individuals against a host of social problems, including suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime, and divorce.
  • The regular practice of religion also encourages such beneficial effects on mental health as less depression (a modern epidemic), more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness.
  • In repairing damage caused by alcoholism, drug addiction, and marital breakdown, religious belief and practice are a major source of strength and recovery.
  • Regular practice of religion is good for personal physical health: It increases longevity, improves one's chances of recovery from illness, and lessens the incidence of many killer diseases.

Religion and Happiness

Ever since Aristotle outlined the goal of a sound civil order in Politics, social and political scientists and social psychologists have been particularly interested in what makes human beings happy.

Happy people tend to be productive; they learn well, make good citizens, and are usually pleasant company. It turns out that the practice of religion has a significant effect on happiness and an overall sense of well-being.

Religious affiliation and regular church attendance are near the top of the list for most people in explaining their own happiness. They serve as the basis of some easy predictors regarding who is most likely to have this sense of well-being. 

Happiness is greater and psychological stress is lower for those who attend religious services regularly, according to studies, and those pursuing a personal relationship with God tend to have improved relationships with themselves and with others per the findings.

An epidemiological study conducted by the University of California at Berkeley in 1971 found that the religiously committed had much less psychological distress than the uncommitted.

Rodney Stark, now of the University of Washington, found the same in a 1970 study. The higher the level of religious attendance, the less stress suffered when adversity had to be endured.

In the early 1990s, David Larson, adjunct professor at the Northwestern and Duke University Schools of Medicine and president of the National Institute of Healthcare Research, completed a systematic review of studies on religious commitment and personal well-being.

Larson found that the relationship is powerful and positive; overall, psychological functioning improved following a resumption of participation in religious worship for those who had stopped.

Religion and Physical Health

In public health circles, the level of educational attainment is held to be the key demographic predictor of physical health, but for over two decades, the level of religious practice has been shown convincingly to be equally important.

As early as the early ‘70s, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health found that cardiovascular diseases, the leading killers of older people, were reduced significantly in early old age by a lifetime of regular church attendance.

By contrast, non-attendees had higher mortality rates for such other diseases as cirrhosis of the liver, emphysema, and arteriosclerosis, and to other cardiovascular diseases. Research on mortality patterns among the poor confirmed a decade later that those who went to church regularly really did live longer. Since then, other studies have reinforced this finding.

Blood pressure, a key factor in cardiovascular health, is reduced significantly by regular church attendance—on average by 5mm of pressure. Given that reducing blood pressure by 2 to 4 mm also reduces the mortality rate by 10 to 20 percent for any given population, a reduction of 5 mm is a significant public health achievement. Among those who smoked, regular church attendance decreased the risk of early stroke by 700 percent.

In 1987, a major review of 250 epidemiological health research studies, which examined the relationship between health and religion and measured such additional outcomes as colitis, cancers of many different types, and longevity measures concluded that, in general, religious commitment improves health.

In what must be one of the most unusual experiments in medical history, Dr. Robert B. Byrd, a cardiologist from the University of California at San Francisco Medical School, conducted a random-sample, double-blind study of the effects of prayer -- not by the patients but for the patients -- on the outcome of cardiac surgeries.

None of the patients knew they were being prayed for, none of the attending doctors and nurses knew who was being prayed for and who was not, and those praying had no personal contact with the patients before or during the whole experiment.

Outcomes for the two sets of patients differed significantly: those prayed for had noticeably fewer post-operative congestive heart failures, fewer cardiopulmonary arrests, less pneumonia, and less need for antibiotics. These intriguing results have not been disproved since by the academic and medical community. There’s an opportunity in there for someone!

The practice of religion has been proven to reduce the rate of suicide, both in the United States and abroad. 

In fact, the rate of church attendance predicts the suicide rate better than any other factor, including unemployment, traditionally regarded as the most powerful variable.

Those who attend church frequently are four times less likely to commit suicide than those who never go to church. Conversely, the national decline in church attendance is associated with a heightened suicide rate. Fluctuations in church attendance rates in the 1970s paralleled the suicide rates for different subgroups, including whites, blacks, men, and women.

The absence of self-esteem weakens the personality and puts the person at greater risk for crime, addictions, and other social maladies, according to studies on the subject.

In all religious denominations, psychological weaknesses decrease as religious orthodoxy increases. Among college students, for instance, the practice of religion was shown in 1969 to have a positive effect on mental health. Students involved with campus ministries were much healthier and made much less use of mental health services.

Self-esteem also seems to be link to a person's image of God. Those with high self-esteem think of God primarily as loving, while those with low self-esteem think of God primarily as punitive.

This was observed by Carl Jung. He said: "Among all my patients in the second half of my life... there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given their followers and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook."

Other evidence exists that people with a religious commitment, whether young or old, who become emotionally or psychologically distressed are much more likely to seek help, which in turn eventually leads to the resolution of the problem.

Religion is a fascinating area of study. Are you going into this field? Can we aid you in getting on a program? Let us know!

Statements of Purpose in Religious Studies

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Degree sought, field, or place of origin!

Many people point to the regrettable negative influence of religion over the centuries. It’s sad to behold, but it’s also challenging to present an unbiased view of the accomplishments of religious studies!

However, in this post, we will try and do just that. Here are a few of the main accomplishments according to yours truly:

  • Religion has preserved numerous historical documents by recycling material for holy manuscripts, thereby allowing us access to documents we have no other copies of, such as the Archimedes Palimpsest.
  • Religion has also preserved writing and intellectual inquiry in Western Europe after the collapse of Roman administration, as well as providing a means by which individuals more inclined to intellectual pursuits could escape the violent world around them. What more, monasteries preserved libraries of both holy books and ancient writings. This eventually led to the reestablishment of dedicated universities and encouraged exploration and early scientific inquiry.
  • The lead up to the Protestant Reformation spawned an interest in learning Classical Greek and Latin in order to read the "original" versions of the Bible, which in turn led to a large increase in the number of people able to access the works of Classical thinker and writers. It additionally helped to revive interest in the Roman Empire, the Hellenistic world, and Classical Greece.
  • In the Islamic world, religion actually helped push for universal education. In some instances, the only education considered vital was the Qur'an. However, often the works of Greek, Roman, Persian, and other intellectuals were included, creating a vibrant scientific community that developed the concept of Algebra, introduced the concept of zero to European mathematics, and created an early push for hospitals and medical inquiry into the body and causes of disease.
  • In China, Confucianism became part of the development of orderly civil administration and an integral part of a civil exam system that endured for nearly 1300 years. This is one of the earliest examples of a true dedicated bureaucracy as we understand it today.
  • Final del formularioPrincipio del formularioChristianity was also actually extremely progressive compared to contemporary society around the first century AD here. The idea that everyone was equal was radical in those time! This was an era of divine monarchs and absolute power. Turn the other cheek? Contemporary logic tended to adhere to the view that "If a man does not strike first, he will be the first struck" - Athenogoras of Syracuse. So from our perspective it may seem like a backwards belief, but in its day, it was truly cutting edge! It spread so quickly amongst the underclass, the poor, slaves and women for good reason!—it was a faith for the dispossessed in a society that considered them less than dirt.

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