Religions are among the most influential forces in history, if not the most influential at all. Most historical events that has shaped or helped shaped the world as it is today were founded along religious backgrounds and teachings. From Constantine to the fall of the Roman Empire, from European conquest to the Crusades, and from the condemnation of heretics to religious terrorism, these are events with religious influences that took part in the course of history.
Even today, religion plays an important role in people’s actions that affect the society and even influences politics.
Religion is so influential in fact that even when science has slowly displaced religious beliefs, it has remained a powerful force in dictating public opinion, compelling political leaders to act according to their standards. Religion’s Role in Society Religion is an important topic in every human civilization. The culture, tradition and beliefs of people are based on religion.
The importance of religion in every human civilization, and indeed of the society, could not have been stated more precisely in Charles Taylor’s foreword to Marcel Gauchet’s book entitled The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion from which he used Durkheim’s ideas.
He explained that for Durkheim, religion was the very basis of society—“a pattern of practices that gives a certain shape to our social imaginary” (as cited in Taylor 1997, x). Gauchet, on the other hand, explained the expansion of religion as an accompanying goal of expanding the state.
He wrote: “wars of expansion could no doubt be justifiably considered one of the greatest spiritual and intellectual forces to have ever operated in history” (Gauchet 1997, 36). This he reasoned by stating that “religious upheaval is inscribed in the State’s action, contained within its necessities as dictated by the political division. Broadening the State’s influence subjectivizes supernatural forces, which can only further broaden its practical scope for dominion by making it an intermediary for an instituting will that it administers.
We see how the dialectic between the visible forces and its invisible guarantor, between the actual and presumed power, slowly draws the religious into history” (1997, 40). Significant Historical Events Influenced by Religion There are quite a number of events influenced by religion that has changed the course of history, but perhaps none as prominent as the establishment of Christianity. Beginning with a small sect of Jewish tradition whose members were persecuted for their beliefs, Christianity has emerged to be the most popular religion around the world today, with adherents comprising up to a third of the world’s population.
Christians, during the Roman Empire, were persecuted and blamed whenever it was found convenient to blame them for some problems of the Empire. It was not until Emperor Constantine had converted to Christianity did the religion secure its future. Apparently, Constantine held that his victory from a battle against a rival was due to his vision to fight under the Christian standard—the cross. Christianity continued to be influential in empires succeeding the decline of the Roman Empire.
The Byzantine Empire, as a continuation of the Roman Empire, rose through a deep religious faith along the majestic pattern of the Roman State and Hellenism. With Theodosius as emperor, pagan worships and heresies were declared illegal thereby promoting Christianity to all territories of the Empire. Some held that the Byzantine Empire had allowed for the widespread adoption of Christianity to Europe be defending the West from pagan invaders from the East. The Empire also brought a close link between the state and the church in that while the emperor takes the lead, the church set a high standard in its relation to secular powers.
“In the threat of excommunication the western church discovers a powerful weapon for dealing with wayward rulers” (HistoryWorld). By the end of the fifth century AD, kings and popes would wield power from the Italian peninsula in the West while emperors would still rule in the East. Christianity is such an important feature of the Empire that when Jerusalem fell into the hands, first of Persia then of the Muslims, it became an urgent matter of State. As the Byzantine Empire was strengthened by the Christian faith, it faced its greatest threat with another rising religion.
Islam, with its expansionist doctrine, had conquered the Persian Empire and has severely crippled the Byzantine Empire that before the launching of the First Crusade Byzantium had become the boundary between the Christian West and the Muslim East. The influence of religion as a powerful force in history is perhaps best exemplified in the Crusades. The fact that the wars the Crusades waged into became a contest between the two most influential religions today proves this point.
The size and scale of the Crusades could be attributed to the effectiveness of Pope Urban II call for military support against the infidels who threatened their Christian brothers in the East, promising the immediate remission of sins to all those who die for the cause and stating that “God wills it. ” While the Crusades were ordained by the church, the destruction of its knights, particularly that of the Knights Templar, could be attributed to the interplay between the church and the state, with the church taking on a more passive role.
It could be argued that while it was under the Pope (Clement V) who found the Templars as heretics, effectively disbanding them and persecuted them, the fact that Philip IV could not have done it himself without pressuring the church proves that the church extends its influence on public opinion. The state relied on the church’s approval and pressured it to promote its will when necessary to make it seem that the state’s actions have the blessing of the church. After all, a king of any Christian domain would not be king until ordained by the church.
Hence, it is only natural for the king to seek the approval of the church or to make it seem they have its approval for their rule to be acceptable. The interplay between the state and the church could also be seen in the church’s influence in the scientific community. This is best exemplified in discoveries and theories that contradicts Biblical claims. The Copernican system, for example, was condemned because it contradicts the claim of man being the center of God’s creation that Galileo was forced to withdraw his findings even when he had his proof that the earth revolves around the sun.
Darwin’s theory of evolution was also met with hostilities because of its claims against religious beliefs that God created the world in six days. While science has slowly displaced religious claims, religion remains to be influential. Up until this day, there are anti-evolution movements that promotes the creation of man and the world by an intelligent being. Contemporary Religion Influences Frank Lambert (2008, 2), in his book, Religion in American Politics, explained that “as religion shapes individual character and moral development, it thereby influences public affairs, albeit in an indirect way.
” As an example, he stated that “through moral instruction, religion informs the values, priorities, and decisions of citizens and officeholders as they enter the voting booth and the statehouse” (2008, 2). Religious groups, Lambert continued to explain, also become more directly involved in the political process. “They lobby Congress to enact or oppose specific legislation, participate in electoral politics on behalf of candidates who support their agendas, and offer the full range of their institutional resources to sympathetic political parties” (Lambert 2008, 2).
It is important to note that such connection between the state and religion is not limited to America. Religions around the world continue to exert its influence in political affairs by stirring their adherents and promoting their stands into public opinion. This is especially seen in Christian countries. While religious groups continue to play an important role in political affairs, extremist factions of religious origins assert their influence in a more violent manner. Religious terrorism is perhaps the most dangerous, complex and persistent problem the world has faced.
Juergensmeyer held that perpetrators in religious terrorism place “religious images of divine struggle—cosmic war—in the service of worldly political battle” (as cited in Gary 2001). Religious terrorism is a tactic in political strategy while at the same time evoking a much larger spiritual confrontation. Muslim terrorist, for example, continue to call on the divine doctrine of jihad in the destruction of infidels. Much as it has united the Muslims during the Muslim conquests, it continues to have an appeal for extremists into using violence in promoting their ideals.
Note that religious terrorism does not encompass solely on Islam. Throughout the world, violence committed in the name of religion occurs. Conclusion Time and again, we see that the influence of religion in worldly affairs can dictate much of what happens in the course of history. Major battles have indeed been waged in the name of religion in the past. We see this through the Crusades, the Muslim conquests, and the religious wars in the sixteenth century. Stately affairs must have the approval of the church, or every action of the state must seem to have its approval.
Even the scientific community is influenced by religion, especially with scientific theories and discoveries contradicting religious claims. Today, religion still has a major influence in political affairs, providing moral instructions to their adherents whose approval political parties must win and pressuring legislation in favor of their moral doctrines. In the guise of spiritual confrontation, religion is also exerting its influence through violent means. Despite the technologies and philosophies that has come in modern age, religion continues to be a powerful influence in dictating the course of history.
Gary, Jay. 2001. Unmasking religious terrorism. http://jaygary. com/terrorism. shtml Gauchet, Marcel. 1997. The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion. Ed. Oscar Burge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. HistoryWorld. History of the Byzantine Empire. http://www. historyworld. net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories. asp? historyid=ac59 Lambert, Frank. 2008. Religion in American Politics: A Short History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Taylor, Charles. 1997. Foreword to The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion by Marcel Gauchet. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.