The role religion has played in creating and addressing social problems

The role religion has played in creating and addressing social problems

Melbourne : Australia | Jul 24, 2010 at 8:31 AM PDT
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Common Sense Farm

Religion has played a significant role in creating social problems but also has had a role in addressing social problems. Whilst religion has helped address social problems by providing its believers with a set of rules or guidelines to follow that suggest the right way to act and provide them with values such as compassion, integrity and the ability to forgive. Religion plays a main role in creating and inflaming the social problems of gender inequality, war, terrorism and poverty.

Religion has played a main role in creating social problems throughout history. Religion affects all aspects of modern society including economics and politics. The main social problems associated with religion are to do with violence. Religion has lead to violence because of clashes between different religious ideals but also because of clashes within a religion over different interpretations of the text. Religion and the issue over which religion is the ‘right’ one has been a contentious issue throughout history. There have always been conflicts between religions as people battle over land ownership and the idea of the Supreme Being. Whilst religion has played a main role in the social problem of war and terrorism, religion has also led to gender inequality within society. Religious deities are most commonly men and leadership roles in most religions are given to men whilst women have little or no role within the religion. Religion has also played a role in problems such as poverty as in some states money and resources and social classes are divided according to religion. Therefore religion has played a large role in creating social problems as interpretation of holy texts and division of society in the name of religion has created and increased social problems.

The main way religion plays a role in addressing social problems is through providing guidance on how to act within society and therefore giving people guidelines on how to deal with social problems. Religion in its most basic form is a set of rules that people are to abide by. Whether it is Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism each religion has a set of rules or commandments that the people of that religion are expected to follow. The commandments of each religion are expected to be abided by and provide a code of values for community. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism all share the same commandments of not killing, stealing, cheating or lying. These values are a way of teaching people order. Religion also provides people with the principles of honesty, integrity, compassion for others and forgiveness. These principles are about treating people fairly, providing people with a sense of community through a common belief and can be used to address social problems. Religion has also played a role in addressing social problems through faith-based non-governmental organisation (NGOs) and charity organizations. Faith-based NGOs have been able to address social problems because they can better understand the issues and people’s feelings about conflict of religions. Effective non-violent peacemakers can be found within Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and other religions. Religious communities are generally focused on working towards justice and peace. (United States Instititute of Peace, 2001) Therefore religion has played a role in addressing social problems by providing guidelines for how to act within society, religion teaches people values of compassion and forgiveness and faith-based NGOs have helped to address issues in regard to religious conflicts.

The social problem of gender inequality has definitely been influenced by religion. Most religions restrict their leadership to men and in the majority of religions the deities are men as well. Whilst women do play a part in many religions, “it is almost always subordinate to the role of men and is likely to be in the private rather than the public sphere.” (Holm J & Bowker J, 1994) The leadership roles and positions of authority are traditionally given to men in Christianity. Women are usually excluded from church leadership; this is evidence by the fact that there has never been a female Pope. The gender inequality in religion can also be highlighted by the fact that God and Jesus are both the focal presence in the religion and are both male. Another religion where women face gender inequality is in Islam. Whilst the Qur’an states that women and men are equal this equality has not been represented in Muslim laws. Women do not have equal rights to make independent decisions about choice of marriage partner, or custody of their children. In the Buddhist religion the most senior nun must report to the most junior monk even though the nun has a higher role. (Holm J & Bowker J, 1994) This religious gender inequality can be contrasted with Judaism where God is neither male nor female and certain commandments are reserved specifically for women. An example of where gender inequality in religion has caused a social problem is through a militant group called Lashkar-e-Jaber who in 2001 demanded that Muslim women in Kashmir wear burqas or risk being attacked. Militants threw acid in the faces of two female teachers for not covering up in public. Therefore religion has helped to create the social problem of gender inequality that plays an important role in modern society.

War is a social problem that religion has played a major role in creating. Wars caused by religious differences can involve a clash of ideologies or a conflict within people of the same religion who have differing interpretations of their faith. Throughout history religion has “been a major contributor to war, bloodshed, hatred and intolerance.” (Gopin, 1997) The best example of where religion has resulted in war is the Crusades. The Crusades were a series of military campaigns from 1095-1291. The military campaigns occurred because the Christians wanted to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who were living there. (BBC, 2005) Another example of religious violence is the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Arab-Israeli conflict was between the Arab people of the Middle East and the Jewish community of Israel. Since its formation in 1948, Israel has been an enemy of the Arab states. Israel was formed through war, a war in which the majority of the Palestinian population had to flee their homes. The Israeli army controls Israel through the use of force and the Palestinians resist this control through the use of force as well, this is the main part of the conflict. Attempts at peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine have been stalled repeatedly. (Senker C, 2005) As Gopin (1997) stated “religion has a dual legacy in human history regarding peace and violence”, religion has not only lead to violence and war but has also contributed to resolving and preventing further war-situations. Religious values and teachings can motivate people to both fight or to reconcile. (Nimer M, 2001) Religious leaders can been used for peacemaking in war because they can and have mediated in conflict situations and been a communication link between the opposing sides. (Smock D, 2008) An example of a religious leader mediating and preventing a conflict is in Tanzania, which is one of Africa’s poorest countries and has both a large Christian and Muslim community. The Religious Leaders Peacebuilding Initiative contributed to the peaceful elections in 2005. There were fears of widespread violence but the Initiative brought the politicians together to limit action that would lead to violence and campaigned for peaceful elections all over the country. (Lewis D, 2005) Therefore whilst religion has played a greater role in creating war, religion has also contributed to preventing and pre-mediating war situations.

Religion has played an enormous role in creating social problems in relation to terrorism. Terrorism is the use of terror as a means of coercion. In the modern era the existence of religious terrorism has increased. The Former United States Secretary of State; Warren Christopher stated that religious and ethnic terrorist acts have become “one of the most important security challenges we face in the wake of the Cold War.” (Juergensmeyer, 2004) A prime example of where religion has been involved in terrorism is the September 11, attacks in 2001. Four planes were hijacked with the intent of attacking America’s economic, military and political power and were flown into the two World Trade Centre towers in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington. The attacks led to the United States declaring a ‘War on Terrorism’ to eradicate Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is an international terrorism network that is led by Osama bin Laden and was created to be an Afghan resistance to defeat the Soviet Union. More recently Al-Qaeda has sought to “rid Muslim countries of what it sees as the profane influence of the West and replace their governments with fundamentalist Islamic regimes.” (Bajoria, J and Bruno, G; 2009) Whilst Al-Qaeda is the most recent and specific example, religious terrorism is by no means limited to Islam. Terrorism with religious justifications has been occurring throughout history.

Religion has played a large role in addressing the social problem of poverty around the world. Various different religious scriptures have spoken of providing care and showing compassion for the poor. Sikhism is a religion that is focused on helping people living in poverty. Sikhs believe that having money is only acceptable if it is used for other people, such as providing them with work, food or clothing. The Sikh’s believe the rich have the responsibility to look after the poor and prevent poverty. Charity is an important part of Sikh teachings because equality and humanity are values that the Sikh’s believe are essential to live a spiritual life. Hinduism and Christianity also teach people to share their wealth selflessly and to look after others but not to the extent of the Sikh teachings. Christian Aid is a Christian organisation that works towards freeing the world from poverty. Christian Aid’s mission statement declares that they work globally to “eradicate the causes of poverty [and strive] to achieve equality, dignity and freedom for all” (Christian Aid, 2008). Christian Aid is a prime example of where a religion is working to combat poverty through charity work. Therefore religion has played a large role in attempting to address the social problem of poverty worldwide. A large majority of the religious texts promote and encourage the followers of that faith to show compassion and help those people that are less fortunate. Religion has also played a role in addressing the social problem of religion through religious charity organizations.

Consequently, religion plays a significant role in creating social problems but is not limited to creating, and also has a role in addressing social problems. Religion has played a large role in creating and aggravating social problems such as war, terrorism and issues of gender inequality. Despite this religion has also helped address social problems of war and poverty. Religion has helped to address problems through teaching its follower values of compassion, integrity and forgiveness but also through the work of religious non-governmental organizations and charities.


Bajoria, J and Bruno, G. (2009). Al-Qaeda. Available: Last accessed 3 May 2010.

BBC. (2005). Holy Wars. Available: Last accessed 3 May 2010.

Christian Aid. (2008). Our Aims. Available: Last accessed 3 May 2010.

Gopin, M. (1997). Religion, Violence, and Conflict Resolution. Peace & Change. 22 (1), p1-31.

Holm, J and Bowker J (1994). Women in Religion. London: Continuum Publishing Group. pxii-xxii.

Juergensmeyer, M (2004). Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. California: University of California Press. p?-??.

Lewis, D. (2005). Faith leaders join forces in Tanzania. Available: Last accessed 4 May 2010.

Nimer, M. (2001). Conflict Resolution, Culture, and Religion: Towards a Training Model of Interreligious Peacebuilding. Journal of Peace Research. 38 (6), p685-704.

Senker, C (2005). The Arab-Israeli Conflict. London: Hodder Wayland. p4-7.

Smock, D. (2008). Religion in World Affairs – Its role in Conflict and Peace. Available: Last accessed 3 May 2010.

United States Institute of Peace. (2001). Faith-Based NGOs and International Peacebuilding. Available: Last accessed 3 May 2010.

francesob is based in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, and is a Stringer on Allvoices.
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