The Importance of the Historical Role of Religion in Human Development and the Situation Today

Through the history of humanity, across the entire globe, religion has played an important, if not the central, role in the development of the various societies.  There have been times and seasons when it has been subordinated, such as during the “Age of Reason” in the West, when the development of the force of the intellectual reason showed clearly the ability to aid the progress of humanity.  The antagonism between the Reason and Religion even during this period, was primarily due to the attempt by religion to hold back or restrict the growth of the various powers of the human being, and the use of doctrine and dogma to enforce superstition, long-held myths or religious story-telling devoid of factual basis.  At some point, when religion recognises the essential role of the other powers of life, and supports their development, it is able to regain its preeminent position by virtue of it, too, answering to essential drives and needs present within the human being.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “A certain preeminence of religion … has always been more or less the normal state of the human mind and of human societies, or if not quite that, yet a notable and prominent part of their complex tendencies, except in certain comparatively brief periods of their history, in one of which we find ourselves today and are half turning indeed to emerge from it but have not yet emerged.  We must suppose then that in this leading, this predominant part assigned to religion by the normal human collectivity there is some great need and truth of our natural being to which we must always after however long an infidelity return.  On the other hand, we must recognise the fact that in a time of great activity, of high aspiration, of deep sowing, of rich fruit-bearing, such as the modern age with all its faults and errors has been, a time especially when humanity got rid of much that was cruel, evil, ignorant, dark, odious, not by the power of religion, but by the power of the awakened intelligence and of human idealism and sympathy, this predominance of religion has been violently attacked and rejected by that portion of humanity which was for that time the standard-bearer of thought and progress, Europe after the Renascence, modern Europe.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 17,  Religion as the Law of Life, pp. 173-174