COLUMN: The internet may be replacing religion in forming communities


Gisella Mancera

Gisella Mancera, Columnist

Religion has been the driving factor of social cohesion for centuries. Empires and governments have been based on religious values and the mores associated with it. Religion is deeply seeded in the roots of human history.

Sociologist, Émile Durkheim, noted that religion was attractive to humans because it served many positive social functions. In his 1912 work, “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life,” Durkheim identifies a few benefits of religion, I will only focus on 2.

1) Religion reinforces social unity and stability

2) Religion is a social agent and thus strengthens social order

In Durkheim’s time, it was hard to imagine a power more unifying than religion. It is often thought that if religion ceased to exist, humanity would lose all morality and society would descend into chaos. And though belief in traditional religions has declined, today’s brightest still question social stability in the absence of religion. How can society function without some unifying truth?

Religion is useful because it frames our reality. If everyone has similar beliefs, it creates stability and social cohesion. The internet, however, is creating global networks able to unify millions. In fact, people once ostracized can now find large online communities who share the same interests. Yet, the internet is not just a place for social rejects, almost everyone, everywhere, logs onto an app to communicate with others. This is through the repetitive nature of headlines and memes. We have all developed a shared sense of the world. We can empathize with the stories of people on the other side of the globe and memes have given us a standardized humor, allowing us to share a laugh with others, simply on the basis that we assume they’ve seen what we’ve seen. People feel a sense of unity over the internet through interaction with mutuals and the ability to read and share the stories of those near and far.

One of the ways to build a cohesive society is to indoctrinate everyone with the same morals. In the past, religious condemnation kept people in line, subjects often obeyed tyrants on the basis that to disobey the king or queen was an act against God. Today, global condemnation is possible as anyone with access to the internet can criticize you, as we’ve seen with cancel culture. In the past, one could move, leaving everything behind. In present times, the internet can globally broadcast one’s failure for an indefinite amount of time, leading to an omnipresence of collective efficacy, or ability to thoroughly police people’s actions.

This is not to say technology is replacing religion, rather they provide similar functions, so as religious beliefs decline, some of the deficits from this will go unnoticed as these social functions will transfer to online communities. In fact, religious beliefs may not decline at all, but the purpose of religion in society may shift as it becomes less critical to maintaining social order.

Gisella Mancera is a senior sociology major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].