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Most religious believers consider their beliefs to be about divine entities or sacred
facts, and they think that their assertion refers to them admitting that many aspects of
religion are obviously human creations, realists contend that looking at religion solely this
way overlooks the fact that religious beliefs can describe the way things really are with God
and with the world. To be sure, philosophically speaking, religious realism is only one of
many kinds of realism. Having summarised what religious or theological realism is, we are
now in a position to explore briefly what nonrealism would be with respect to religion.
Friedrich Niezsche stated that religion was developed as a kind of fiction in order to support
morality, which, in turn, is aim at suppressing the will to power in strong, creative persons.

Nonrealist frequently ground religion either in subjective psychological experiences or

in the structure and demands of the society. Some nonrealist accounts of religion emphasize
its psychological origin , holding that religious ideas result from personal interpretation of
feelings or sentiments that, in turn, link us to other individuals. But other nonrealist accounts
maintain that religion is essentially a social phenomenon. For Durkheim, interpretations of
religious feelings link us to social entities. Thus, societies are the basis of moral obligations
because the group dictates to the individual beliefs to be embraced, the rules to be followed,
and the rites to be observed. Consequently, religion is not really about cosmic forces or
metaphysical ideals but arises out of society’s need for individuals to comply. Thus, religion
is a natural, not supernatural, phenomenon. Religion is created by humans, and it must be
studied as a social discipline. Issues of rationality are about whether certain beliefs or
behaviors make sense or serve a useful social function.

The general confusion of realism is that it takes belief to be a private mental state
whose meaning lies in correspondences to an object. So, the meaning of religious belief is
found in its use, rather than in relation to an external object.


Religions have only been found at the heart of established societies; among such
people who have been rigorously excluded from the rest of society by a physical accident,
religious sentiment has never been found before the day it was communicated to them.
Finally, history teaches us that religions have evolved and changed with the very societies
which give birth to them. For some, religion originates from a double source; first, the need
to understand and secondly, sociability.

There are two kinds’ social sentiments. One links each individual to his fellow citizens.
This kind manifests itself within the community in the relationship of daily life – the
sentiments are esteem, respect, affection and fear, all of which we can feel for another one.
They could be described as inter-individual or inter-social sentiments. The second kind
consists of those which link me as an individual to the social entity taken as a whole; above
all they show themselves in the relationships of one society with another and they might be
called inter-social. The first kind has played a part in the genesis of religions. They affirm
that the relationships which in the beginning united man to the deity are analogous to those
which he maintains with individuals who constitute his society, that is to say, they are
personal relationships. It is the inter-social tendencies which give birth to religious

The power and authority of every disciplines resides is habit: it is a totally of ways of
behaving fixed by customs. Religion, therefore, is merely a form of custom, like law and
morality. In short, religions start with faith, that is to say, with any belief accepted or
experienced without arguments. What characterises religious beliefs and practices alike is
that they are obligatory. Society dictates to the believer the dogmas he must uphold and the
rites he must observe; if this is so, it is an indication that the rites and dogmas are its own
handiwork. We have corollary to our definition of the fact that religion originates not in
individual feelings but in collective states of mind, and that is varies according to these
states. Therefore, it is not human nature in general that we must seek the determining cause
of religious phenomena; it is in the nature of the societies to which they relate, and if they
have evolved in the course of history, it is because their social organisation has been
transformed. It stems uniquely from the fact that religion belongs to a word which human
science has only just begun to explore and which to us is still unknown.

Sacred things are those whose representation society itself has fashioned; it includes
all sorts of collective states, common traditions and emotions, feelings which have a
relationship to object of general interest, etc.; and all those elements are combined
according to the appropriate laws of social mentality. Profane things, conversely, are those
which each of us constructs from our own sense data and experience; the ideas we have
about them have as their subject matter unadulterated, individual expressions, and that is
why they do not have the same prestige in our eyes as the preceding ones.
1 Reasoning about religion
Religion, whatever else it may be, clearly embodies social practices and bodies of
belief expressed in particular ways of life. For one thing, it appears to ignore the claim that
religious beliefs can themselves be held on rational grounds and hence have a right to claim
truth. Whatever difficulties arise from the standpoint of social science, religion brings
additional complications. The assumption, however, in the case of those who would study
religion is not that they are confronting internal questions of truth and falsity. Instead, they
wish to take up an external position and look at religion and its role purely as a cultural
construction. The very fact that we stand back from the beliefs, and refuse to examine their
truth, will have the result that scientific explanations of such belief will have to dismiss any
idea that a belief is held because it is true…….

2 Explaining Religion