This paper begins with an explanation of what religion means and how it affects people. A brief history of religion in America is provided from the pre-colonial period to the present day status. Then it moves on to give a brief review of major religions in America. Further, the role/benefits of religion are explored, highlighting how religion contributes to well-being community, spirituality, health, education and other various benefits. The paper then finally concludes by highlighting the future of religion in America and the rest of the world.
Defining religion is a difficult thing since different people or groups have different ideas of what religion is, but most definitions will always incorporate the belief in supernatural power(s) that created universe and continue to rule over it. Therefore, religion is an individual’s choice and each religion has it own belief system that links it to a superpower or God.
Various religions have continued to play a significant role to human spirituality and in helping the whole humankind existence. Since ancient times, religions have been helping the human race in various ways such as providing counseling services, governance, food, and shelter for the poor, and other various means.
Thus, the history of most people appears to be somehow influenced by religion. The history of America and religion are quite interrelated from the pre-colonial period, when various American Indian groups practicing a huge variety of religious traditions shared the continent to the present day America where all major religions in the world are practiced (Corbett-Hemeyer, 2009).
Historically, some religious groups have always outnumbered other groups in terms of number of faithful, with the protestant divisions continuing to be the majority grouping compared to other traditional religious groups in America. In much of the American history, the Protestant Christianity has been the major religious grouping, wielding cultural influence in the United States of America and enjoying privileges of its status.
However, in the in the 20th century, the number of Catholics and Jews grew rapidly becoming the other major religious groupings in America, attracting interest from various scholars. The 21st century has witnessed tremendous changes in the religious cycles, with the number of Muslim faithful increasing significantly to outnumber the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and other minor religions in the united states, thus classifying America as being any religious grouping country would be so misguided (Hall, 2007).
From inception of the American continent, the religious diversity has always been present, thus, those who had tried to advocate for religious homogeneity had always been faced with quite difficult moments.
This is very true, since, even before the European settlers arrived religious diversity was already present through the various beliefs and practices of the Native Americans and the settlers had different religious orientations such as Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and other groupings.
Hence, where each religious grouping of settlers settled, it spread it beliefs in that area leading to religious diversity within America (Hall, 2007). Due to this religious diversity, the American people practice the major religions in the world, the Native American religions, and their derivatives. In the next section of this paper, the major religions of the America will be explored briefly.
In the world, there are many religions but the ten most organized religions of the world include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Bahaism, Confucianism, Jainism and Shintoism (Infoplease, 2005). All these religions are practiced in America, contributing to its religious diversity. There are three major religions in America, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam respectively (Corbett-Hemeyer, 2009).
These three religions, though they have differences in their doctrine and practice, they share some similarities. They are monotheistic faiths, trace their ancestry to Abraham, and believe God as the creator and governor of universe, and most of their sacred narratives share similarities especially in references to same figures, histories, and locations.
Hence, they are commonly referred to as the major Abrahamic Religions. Based on this information, most Americans are religious, with only a few not having any religious affiliation. Thus, the religions believe in God, pray, practice a religion and explain their life happening by appealing to God’s will and word and work (Neusner, 2009, P.1).
Christians are followers of Jesus Christ and their holy book is the bible. Christianity contributes more two thirds of the religions in America with various forms of Christianity having predominated and defined much of the culture and society over the years (Neusner, 2009).
Christianity is generally divided into Protestants and Roman Catholic. Both forms of Christianity were introduced into America by the early European settlers and they have continued to influence the American Christian society. Protestants Christianity was introduced by the earliest European settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts and it has continued to grow, encompassing various denominations and sects, forming the largest single religious grouping in America.
Catholic Christianity was introduced in the eastern and the great southwest part of United States by European settlers who settled there especially of Hispanic origins and it has grown to be second largest single religious grouping in America. These two forms of Christianity were the earliest form Christianity but later Orthodox Christianity was introduced in America from Greece and Russia accounting for a small portion of Christianity (Neusner, 2009).
Judaism is a religion that is practiced by Jews advocating for strict unitary view of God and the major holy book is the Hebrew Bible. There are three main divisions of Judaism in America: the Reform, the Orthodox, and the Conservatives though there are several other sects all forming around 4 percent of all religions found in the United States (Neusner, 2009). Judaism has existed in America since the colonial days when it was practiced few Jewish settlers of that time.
Muslims are believers in Allah (God) and they follow the teaching of Prophet Muhammad. In addition, Muslims recognize the biblical prophets. Initially the number of Muslims in America was quite decimated but recently their number has increased rapidly leading them to become the third largest religious community in the United States with approximately five million Muslims and 1500 mosques located within the country (Neusner, 2009, P.151).
Most of American Muslims are immigrants or descendants of the immigrant Muslim communities with rest being from people who convert. Due to misconceptions and stereotyping of Muslims in the western world, most of American Muslims have kept low profile while concentrating on spreading their religion and economic activities. The next part of this paper will discuss the way the various religions found in America benefit people and community.
Benefits of religion can accrue to individual, groups and as well the whole humankind. By not basing on specific religion or beliefs, the following are some the benefits people stand to benefit from religion. First, friendship and togetherness is one of the paramount emphases of any religion.
Through service in places of worship, people meet, interact, and forge friendships that can be life lasting. Most of religious beliefs encourage people to feign friendships and support each other in times of difficult in order to promote togetherness.
Religion helps individuals to participate in worship with brothers and sisters of their religion and through the social gatherings, the community growth and wellbeing is enhanced within the religion. Friendship and supporting each other is a vital component of happy and peaceful communities.
Secondly, studies have shown that religion can be a key element in creating national unity of any country. Religion helps in shaping the shared values of a culture into a vital sense of unity.
The shared values can be crucial ingredient in modeling the national identity dispersing divisive forces such as ethnicity or nationality. Additionally, religion can help to create a national figure who exhibits the valued cultural values, thus unifying the whole country. Lack of shared cultural values brings tension and the sense of togetherness brought by national identity can be lost.
For example, studies have revealed that in the tense Baltic region civil religion is pivotal in shaping the shared values of the a culture into a strong common sense of national unity that will enable the secular pluralistic society to achieve it envisioned democratic process (Miller, 2009). The shared cultural sense can help people of this region to forge a better national identity that can disperse the bipolar of tendency of some of the cultures.
Thirdly, religion has always significantly helped in the well-being of individuals and the community at large in terms of health. The belief system gives hope and reinforces mental attitude, and when coupled with interaction with other members of the religion, a person’s mental health stands to benefit. Studies show that religious beliefs can improve physical wellness of a person, as there have been many documented cases where a person’s religious beliefs have helped in overcoming the disease or challenges relating to health.
According to studies that were conducted on HIV and religious beliefs, it was revealed that spirituality predicts for better disease control, with people who do not attend religious services having twice the risk of dying over in the next 8 years since infection than those who attend religious services regularly (Kluger, 2009).
Individuals and communities reap many health benefits from religious groups that act as owners or sponsors of various healthcare providing facilities and research institutions. These faith-based health organizations (FBOs) provide healthcare to entire communities even to people who are non-religious or not of that faith.
For example, a church-based community VCT is not for use by Christians only but by all members of that society or the Muslim hospitals such as those of Agha Khan International Foundation is for benefit of the whole community in which they serve all people equally without discriminating any group.
In addition, research conducted by religious sponsored research institutions benefit the entire humankind. The FBOs have been quite successful in delivery of healthcare, as research has shown that the FBOs offer services more effectively since the staff members motivated by faith they are more caring, compassionate and supportive in performing their responsibilities (Flanigan, 2009).
More so, the international FBOs working in developing nations have mostly shown greater long-term commitment to local inhabitants than most secular NGOs and this has mostly been enhanced by the ties of religious solidarity they share with the people they serve (Bradley, 2005).
In addition, studies have shown that FBOs services have been very helpful especially when offered to people suffering from substance abuse, violence, and discrimination due to the moral and spiritual dimensions that they incorporate; generally, there is a strong positive correlation between the improved health and religious behavior (Fischer, 2008).
In essence, religion is one the key player in the global health provision and research leading to solutions to many diseases and all these services are offered for betterment of the entire human race.
Fourthly, religion plays a great role in enhancing education globally. Various religious groups sponsor and own thousands of educational institutions worldwide that offer education to all people, mostly regardless of their religious orientation.
These institutions range from kindergarten, through elementary and high school to world-class universities that offer quality education that enhance global literacy and educational level. Through education the communities and individuals globally stands to gain many benefits including enlightenment, technological advancement, improved literacy level, and solution to various global issues.
Even if the education that is offered is for religious purposes, it can mutually benefit the community and the individuals in numerous ways (Katherine, 2011).
Studies have indicated that religion is basic to education in many countries and that education promotes understanding people of different religions hence even the secular international development agencies have to incorporate the understanding of role religion in education in enhancing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and tackling global educational challenges (Katherine, 2011).
According studies conducted in Europe on the relationship between religion and education, they seem to support the above notion since they revealed that study of religion is a precondition for tolerance and social awareness of religious diversity and they are a prerequisite for personal development and social responsibility (Jackson et al, 2007).
This is applicable through religious education that encourages cultural relativism rather than any religious education that encourages mono cultural aspects. Therefore, religion can significantly influence the education of individuals and communities directly or indirectly.
More so, religion can help people to cope with loneliness and grief through consolation. In case of grief, religious institutions offer consolation to their members to help cope with sadness. The grieved member is offered consoling words and presence of other religious members help to restore feeling of being loved and appreciated. Through participation in religion people are able to avoid or reduce loneliness as they are busy well being preoccupied with the religious activities.
Thus, the faith in ones religion can be a source of motivation that strengthen one to carry on, tackle obstacles and emerge a better and stronger person from difficulties. Lastly, embracing religion can be a life saving event for some people since there have been some social misfits such as criminals and drug addicts that upon embracing have become good and productive members of the society.
Religion is a personal choice though it has existed since time in memorial offering humankind spirituality and other benefits. People through involvement of religion in their life for many years it has somehow influenced their culture and systems of governance. Throughout the history of the world, religion appears to have played a significant role in shaping the events and their outcomes.
For America, the religion will always continue to part of it, people only what can change in future are the religious trends as since the pre-colonial period up to date there have been tremendous religious transformations and emergency of new religions. In addition, the global religious trends will continue to have influence on religion in America due to the fact that America has been assimilating various world religions.
Religion will continue to be beneficial to the religious and non-religious people and communities even in the coming years, since it has always been part of human race, with some people embracing it while others practicing none at all. Since religion influences culture and vice versa, religion can shape the way people interact and become an essential ingredient in uniting conflicting people leading to lasting peace.
Religion also accords the society various tangible benefits through enhancing health, education and empowering of the community. Though religion is beneficial to the community if spread or used in retrogressive manner, it can be a major source of conflict and hatred. For example, wars have been fought around the world since ancient time for religious reasons.
In addition, religious affiliations can be a source of disagreement between different groups in country brewing tension. For example, the recent tension between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. For benefits of religion to continue helping the world, religion should be approached in an understanding manner that allows room for religious tolerance.
Bradley, T. (2005). Does Compassion Bring Results? A Critical Perspective on Faith and Development. Culture and Religion, Vol 6(3), p337-351.
Corbett-Hemeyer, J. (2009). Religion in America. Sixth Edition. Ontario: Pearson Education Canada.
Fischer, R. (2008). In God We Trust, All Others Bring Data: Assessing the State of Outcomes Measurement for Faith-Based and Community-Based Programming. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Flanigan, S.T. (2009). Staff Perceptions of the Benefits of Religion in Health and Human Services Nonprofits: Evidence from International Development. Journal of Health & Human Services Administration, Vol. 32 Issue 2, p164-194, 31p.
Hall, T.L. (2007). Religion in America. NY: Infobase Publishing.
Infoplease, (2005). Top Ten Organized Religions of the World. Retrieved from http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0904108.html.
Jackson, R., et al. (2007). Religion and education in Europe. Developments, contexts and debates. Munster: Waxmann.
Katherine, M. (2011). Global Education Goals: Where Does Religion Come In? Comparative Education Review, Vol. 55 Issue 1, p112-115, 4p.
Kluger, J. (2009). The biology of belief. Time Magazine February 12, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1879179,00.html
Miller, L. (2009). Religion’s Role in Creating National Unity. International Journal on World Peace, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p91-114, 24p. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&hid=113&sid=659589f5-b5b1-4f0f-a60c-b602409df2dd%40sessionmgr15
Neusner, J. (2009). World Religions in America: An Introduction. NY: Westminster John Knox Press.