Badges, we don't need no stinkin badges...
Prompted in part by the writings of Arun and his guru, I realized that I have left out a huge part of the role of contemporary religions: that of keeper and enforcer of morality codes, and thereby of social and power relationships. I'm not sure if this applies to primitive societies, but it's clearly a cardinal role in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Hindu religion.
That role is probably even more relevant for most societies than the (closely related) role of organizing for war. Most religious warfare is internal to societies rather than external. Different groups can be seen competing for control of the levers of power in all of the religions I have mentioned. Often the struggle is portrayed as between fundamentalist and modern, but that is surely an oversimplification.
Why do the Taliban blow up schools for girls, or Hindu mobs burn movie theaters, or West Bank settlers stone Palestinian children? They usually justify such actions in the name of God or religion, but more concrete economic and social goals can be detected by the cynical.
The struggle for control of the mind of the society goes on furiously in most modern countries, but the struggle is fiercist in societies in the grip of radical change and restructuring. Americans are most familiar with the attempt of the fundamentalists among us to keep thier grip on sexual morality, but I suspect that this has an underlying economic and political motif. Is it coincidence that the biggest players in the anti-abortion and anti-gay movements in the US are each at the center of large financial empires? I doubt it.
The stakes in the Middle East and Islamic world are much more overtly political, but India is perhaps the most interesting case of all. Unfortunately, I don't yet know enough to have a clear view, but some very familiar themes are clearly in play (nationalism, national identity, sexual morality) while other elements are more novel (especially the complexities of the caste system).