Religion is a cultural system of behaviors and practices, world views, sacred texts, holy places, ethics, and societal organisation that relate humanity to what an anthropologist has called "an order of existence". Different religions might or might not contain various elements, ranging from the "divine", "sacred things", "faith", a "supernatural being or supernatural beings" or "some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life."
Religious practises might include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration (of God or deities), sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trances, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, public service, or additional aspects of human culture. Religions have sacred histories and narratives, which might be preserved in sacred scriptures, and symbols and holy places, that aim mostly to give a meaning to life. Religions might contain symbolic stories, which are at times said by followers to be true, that have the side purpose of explaining the origin of life, the Universe, and additional things. Traditionally, faith, in addition to reason, has been considered a source of religious beliefs. There are an estimated 10,000 distinct religions worldwide. About 84 percent of the world's population is affiliated with one of the five largest religions, namely Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or forms of folk religion.
With the onset of the modernisation of and the scientific revolution in the western world, a few aspects of religion have cumulatively been criticized. The religiously unaffiliated include atheists (who reject belief in the existence of deities) and agnostics (who believe that the truth of certain claims – especially metaphysical and religious claims such as whether God, the divine or the supernatural exist – are unknown and perhaps unknowable). While the religiously unaffiliated have grown globally, a large number of of the unaffiliated still have various religious beliefs. About sixteen percent of the world's population is religiously unaffiliated.
The study of religion encompasses a wide variety of academic disciplines, including theology, comparative religion and social scientific studies. Theories of religion offer various explanations for the origins and workings of religion.
Etymology and history of the concept of Religion
Religion (from O.Fr. religion "religious community", from L. religionem (nom. religio) "respect for what's sacred, reverence for the gods", "obligation, the bond between man and the gods") is derived from the Latin religiō, the ultimate origins of which are obscure. One possible interpretation traced to Cicero, connects lego "read", i.e. re (again) with lego in the sense of "choose", "go over again" or "consider carefully". Modern scholars such as Tom Harpur and Joseph Campbell favour the derivation from ligare "bind, connect", probably from a prefixed re-ligare, i.e. re (again) + ligare or "to reconnect", which was made prominent by St. Augustine, following the interpretation of Lactantius. The mediaeval usage alternates with order in designating bonded communities like those of monastic orders: "we hear of the 'religion' of the Golden Fleece, of a knight 'of the religion of Avys'".
In the ancient and mediaeval world, the etymological Latin root religio was understood as an individual virtue of worship, never as doctrine, practice, or actual source of knowledge. The modern concept of "religion" as an abstraction which entails distinct sets of beliefs or doctrines is a recent invention in the English language after such usage began with texts from the seventeenth century due to the splitting of Christendom throughout the Protestant Reformation and more prevalent colonisation or globalisation in the age of exploration which involved contact with numerous foreign and indigenous cultures with non-European languages. It was in the seventeenth century that the concept of "religion" received its modern shape notwithstanding the fact that ancient texts like the Bible, the Quran, and additional ancient sacred texts didn't have a concept of religion in the original languages and neither did the people or the cultures in which these sacred texts were written. For example, the Greek word threskeia, which was used by Greek writers such as Herodotus and Josephus and is found in texts like the New Testament, is at times translated as "religion" today, however, the term was understood as "worship" well into the mediaeval period. In the Quran, the Arabic word din is often translated as "religion" in modern translations, but up to the mid-1600s translators expressed din as "law". Even in the first century AD, Josephus had used the Greek term ioudaismos, which a few translate as "Judaism" today, even though he used it as an ethnic term, not one linked to modern abstract concepts of religion as a set of beliefs. It was in the nineteenth century that the terms "Buddhism", "Hinduism", "Taoism", and "Confucianism" first emerged. Throughout its long history, Japan had no concept of "religion" after there was no corresponding Japanese word, nor anything close to its meaning, but when American warships appeared off the coast of Japan in 1853 and forced the Japanese government to sign treaties demanding, among additional things, freedom of religion, the country had to contend with this Western idea.
According to the philologist Max Müller in the nineteenth century, the root of the English word "religion", the Latin religio, was originally used to mean only "reverence for God or the gods, careful pondering of divine things, piety" (which Cicero further derived to mean "diligence"). Max Müller characterised a large number of additional cultures around the world, including Egypt, Persia, and India, as having a similar power structure at this point in history. What is called ancient religion today, they would have only called "law".
Some languages have words that can be translated as "religion", but they might use them in a quite different way, and a few have no word for religion at all. For example, the Sanskrit word dharma, at times translated as "religion", additionally means law. Throughout classical South Asia, the study of law consisted of concepts such as penance through piety and ceremonial as well as practical traditions. Medieval Japan at first had a similar union between "imperial law" and universal or "Buddha law", but these later became independent sources of power.
There is no precise equivalent of "religion" in Hebrew, and Judaism doesn't distinguish clearly between religious, national, racial, or ethnic identities. One of its central concepts is "halakha", meaning the "walk" or "path" at times translated as "law", which guides religious practise and belief and a large number of aspects of daily life.
The word religion is at times used interchangeably with faith or set of duties; however, in the words of Émile Durkheim, religion differs from private belief in that it is "something eminently social".
The use of additional terms, such as obedience to God or Islam are likewise grounded in particular histories and vocabularies.
Religion as modern western construct
An increasing number of scholars have expressed reservations about ever defining the "essence" of religion. They observe that the way we use the concept today is a particularly modern construct that wouldn't have been understood through much of history and in a large number of cultures outside the West (or even in the West until after the Peace of Westphalia). The MacMIllan Encyclopedia of Religions states:
The quite attempt to define religion, to find a few distinctive or possibly unique essence or set of qualities that distinguish the "religious" from the remainder of human life, is primarily a Western concern. The attempt is a natural consequence of the Western speculative, intellectualistic, and scientific disposition. It is additionally the product of the dominant Western religious mode, what's called the Judeo-Christian climate or, more accurately, the theistic inheritance from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The theistic form of belief in this tradition, even when downgraded culturally, is formative of the dichotomous Western view of religion. That is, the basic structure of theism is essentially a distinction between a transcendent deity and all else, between the creator and his creation, between God and man.
Friedrich Schleiermacher in the late eighteenth century defined religion as das schlechthinnige Abhängigkeitsgefühl, commonly translated as "a feeling of absolute dependence".
His contemporary Hegel disagreed thoroughly, defining religion as "the Divine Spirit fitting conscious of Himself through the finite spirit."
Edward Burnett Tylor defined religion in 1871 as "the belief in spiritual beings". He argued that narrowing the definition to mean the belief in a supreme deity or judgement after death or idolatry and so on, would exclude a large number of peoples from the category of religious, and thus "has the fault of identifying religion rather with particular developments than with the deeper motive which underlies them". He additionally argued that the belief in spiritual beings exists in all known societies.
In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, the psychologist William James defined religion as "the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they might consider the divine". By the term "divine" James meant "any object that's godlike, whether it be a concrete deity or not" to which the individual feels impelled to respond with solemnity and gravity.
The sociologist Durkheim, in his seminal book The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, defined religion as a "unified system of beliefs and practises relative to sacred things". By sacred things he meant things "set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practises which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them". Sacred things are not, however, limited to gods or spirits. On the contrary, a sacred thing can be "a rock, a tree, a spring, a pebble, a piece of wood, a house, in a word, anything can be sacred". Religious beliefs, myths, dogmas and legends are the representations that express the nature of these sacred things, and the virtues and powers which are attributed to them.
Echoes of James' and Durkheim's definitions are to be found in the writings of, for example, Frederick Ferré who defined religion as "one's way of valuing most comprehensively and intensively". Similarly, for the theologian Paul Tillich, faith is "the state of being ultimately concerned", which "is itself religion. Religion is the substance, the ground, and the depth of man's spiritual life."
When religion is seen in terms of "sacred", "divine", intensive "valuing", or "ultimate concern", then it is possible to understand why scientific findings and philosophical criticisms (e.g. Richard Dawkins) don't necessarily disturb its adherents.
The anthropologist Clifford Geertz defined religion as a
[…] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."
Alluding perhaps to Tylor's "deeper motive", Geertz remarked that
[…] we have quite little idea of how, in empirical terms, this particular miracle is accomplished. We just know that it is done, annually, weekly, daily, for a few people almost hourly; and we have an enormous ethnographic literature to demonstrate it".
The theologian Antoine Vergote took the term "supernatural" simply to mean whatever transcends the powers of nature or human agency. He additionally emphasised the "cultural reality" of religion, which he defined as
[…] the entirety of the linguistic expressions, emotions and, actions and signs that refer to a supernatural being or supernatural beings.
Peter Mandaville and Paul James intended to get away from the modernist dualisms or dichotomous understandings of immanence/transcendence, spirituality/materialism, and sacredness/secularity. They define religion as
[…] a relatively-bounded system of beliefs, symbols and practises that addresses the nature of existence, and in which communion with others and Otherness is lived as if it both takes in and spiritually transcends socially-grounded ontologies of time, space, embodiment and knowing.
According to the MacMillan Encyclopedia of Religions, there's an experiential aspect to religion which can be found in almost every culture:
[…] almost every known culture [has] a depth dimension in cultural experiences […] toward a few sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life. When more or less distinct patterns of behaviour are built around this depth dimension in a culture, this structure constitutes religion in its historically recognisable form. Religion is the organisation of life around the depth dimensions of experience—varied in form, completeness, and clarity in accordance with the environing culture.
The practises of a religion might include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration (of a deity, gods, or goddesses), sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trances, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, public service, or additional aspects of human culture.
Religions have sacred histories, narratives, and mythologies which might be preserved in sacred scriptures, and symbols and holy places, that aim to explain the meaning of life, the origin of life, or the Universe.
Traditionally, faith, in addition to reason, has been considered a source of religious beliefs. The interplay between faith and reason, and their use as actual or perceived support for religious beliefs, have been a subject of interest to philosophers and theologians.
The word myth has several meanings.
- A traditional storey of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon;
- A person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence; or
- A metaphor for the spiritual potentiality in the human being.
Ancient polytheistic religions, such as those of Greece, Rome, and Scandinavia, are usually categorised under the heading of mythology. Religions of pre-industrial peoples, or cultures in development, are similarly called "myths" in the anthropology of religion. The term "myth" can be used pejoratively by both religious and non-religious people. By defining another person's religious storeys and beliefs as mythology, one implies that they're less real or true than one's own religious storeys and beliefs. Joseph Campbell remarked, "Mythology is often thought of as other people's religions, and religion can be defined as mis-interpreted mythology."
In sociology, however, the term myth has a non-pejorative meaning. There, myth is defined as a storey that's important for the group whether or not it is objectively or provably true. Examples include the resurrection of their real-life founder Jesus, which, to Christians, explains the means by which they're freed from sin, is symbolic of the power of life over death, and is additionally said to be a historical event. But from a mythological outlook, whether or not the event actually occurred is unimportant. Instead, the symbolism of the death of an old "life" and the start of a new "life" is what's most significant. Religious believers might or might not accept such symbolic interpretations.
Religions have a societal basis, either as a living tradition which is carried by lay participants, or with an organised clergy, and a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership.
Types and demographics
The list of still-active religious movements given here is an attempt to summarise the most important regional and philosophical influences on local communities, but it is by no means a complete description of every religious community, nor does it explain the most important elements of individual religiousness.
Types of religion
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the academic practise of comparative religion divided religious belief into philosophically defined categories called "world religions." Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories:
- world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths;
- indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and
- new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths.
Some recent scholarship has argued that not all types of religion are necessarily separated by mutually exclusive philosophies, and furthermore that the utility of ascribing a practise to a certain philosophy, or even calling a given practise religious, rather than cultural, political, or social in nature, is limited. The current state of psychological study about the nature of religiousness suggests that it is better to refer to religion as a largely invariant phenomenon that should be distinguished from cultural norms (i.e. "religions").
Some scholars classify religions as either universal religions that seek worldwide acceptance and actively look for new converts, or ethnic religions that are identified with a particular ethnic group and don't seek converts. Others reject the distinction, pointing out that all religious practices, whatever their philosophical origin, are ethnic because they come from a particular culture.
The five largest religious groups by world population, estimated to account for 5.8 billion people and 84 percent of the population, are Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism (with the relative numbers for Buddhism and Hinduism dependent on the extent of syncretism) and traditional folk religion.
|Five largest religions||2010 (billion)||2010 (%)||2000 (billion)||2000 (%)||Demographics|
|Christianity||2.2||32%||2.0||33%||Christianity by country|
|Islam||1.6||23%||1.2||19.6%||Islam by country|
|Hinduism||1.0||15%||0.811||13.4%||Hinduism by country|
|Buddhism||0.5||7%||0.360||5.9%||Buddhism by country|
A global poll in 2012 surveyed 57 countries and reported that 59 percent of the world's population identified as religious, twenty-three percent as not religious, thirteen percent as "convinced atheists", and additionally a nine percent decrease in identification as "religious" when compared to the 2005 average from 39 countries. A follow up poll in 2015 found that 63 percent of the globe identified as religious, twenty-two percent as not religious, and eleven percent as "convinced atheists". On average, women are "more religious" than men. Some people follow multiple religions or multiple religious principles at the same time, regardless of whether or not the religious principles they follow traditionally allow for syncretism.
Judaism is the oldest Abrahamic religion, originating in the people of ancient Israel and Judea. The Torah is its foundational text, and is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. It is supplemented by oral tradition, set down in written form in later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. Judaism includes a wide corpus of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. Within Judaism there are a variety of movements, most of which emerged from Rabbinic Judaism, which holds that God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah; historically, this assertion was challenged by various groups. The Jewish people were scattered after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Today there are about 13 million Jews, about 40 per cent living in Israel and 40 per cent in the United States. The largest Jewish religious movements are Orthodox Judaism (Haredi Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism), Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism.
Christianity is based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (1st century) as presented in the New Testament. The Christian faith is essentially faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and as Savior and Lord. Almost all Christians believe in the Trinity, which teaches the unity of Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead. Most Christians can describe their faith with the Nicene Creed. As the religion of Byzantine Empire in the first millennium and of Western Europe throughout the time of colonization, Christianity has been propagated throughout the world. The main divisions of Christianity are, according to the number of adherents:
- The Catholic Church, led by the Bishop of Rome and the bishops worldwide in communion with him, is a communion of 24 Churches sui iuris, including the Latin Church and 23 Eastern Catholic churches, such as the Maronite Catholic Church.
- Eastern Christianity, which include Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Church of the East.
- Protestantism, separated from the Catholic Church in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation and is split into thousands of denominations. Major branches of Protestantism include Anglicanism, Baptists, Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Methodism, though each of these contain a large number of different denominations or groups.
There are additionally smaller groups, including:
- Restorationism, the belief that Christianity should be restored (as opposed to reformed) along the lines of what's known about the apostolic early church.
- Latter Day Saint movement, founded by Joseph Smith in the late 1820s.
- Jehovah's Witnesses, founded in the late 1870s by Charles Taze Russell.
Islam is based on the Quran, one of the holy books considered by Muslims to be revealed by God, and on the teachings (hadith) of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a major political and religious figure of the seventh century CE. Islam is the most widely practised religion of Southeast Asia, North Africa, Western Asia, and Central Asia, while Muslim-majority countries additionally exist in parts of South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Europe. There are additionally several Islamic republics, including Iran, Pakistan, Mauritania, and Afghanistan.
- Sunni Islam is the largest denomination within Islam and follows the Quran, the hadiths which record the sunnah, whilst placing emphasis on the sahabah.
- Shia Islam is the second largest denomination of Islam and its adherents believe that Ali succeeded Muhammad and further places emphasis on Muhammad's family.
- Ahmadiyya adherents believe that the awaited Imam Mahdi and the Promised Messiah has arrived, believed to be Mirza Ghulam Ahmad by Ahmadis.
- There are additionally Muslim revivalist movements such as Muwahhidism and Salafism.
Other denominations of Islam include Nation of Islam, Ibadi, Sufism, Quranism, Mahdavia, and non-denominational Muslims. Wahhabism is the dominant Muslim schools of thought in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Bahá'í Faith is an Abrahamic religion founded in nineteenth century Iran and after then has spread worldwide. It teaches unity of all religious philosophies and accepts all of the prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well as additional prophets including its founder Bahá'u'lláh. One of its divisions is the Orthodox Bahá'í Faith.
Smaller regional Abrahamic groups additionally exist, including Samaritanism (primarily in Israel and the West Bank), the Rastafari movement (primarily in Jamaica), and Druze (primarily in Syria and Lebanon).
East Asian religions
East Asian religions (also known as Far Eastern religions or Taoic religions) consist of several religions of East Asia which make use of the concept of Tao (in Chinese) or Dō (in Japanese or Korean). They include:
- Taoism and Confucianism, as well as Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese religion influenced by Chinese thought.
- Chinese folk religion: the indigenous religions of the Han Chinese, or, by metonymy, of all the populations of the Chinese cultural sphere. It includes the syncretism of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, Wuism, as well as a large number of new religious movements such as Chen Tao, Falun Gong and Yiguandao.
- Other folk and new religions of East Asia and Southeast Asia such as Korean shamanism, Chondogyo, and Jeung San Do in Korea; Shinto, Shugendo, Ryukyuan religion, and Japanese new religions in Japan; Satsana Phi in Laos; Cao Đài, Hòa Hảo, and Vietnamese folk religion in Vietnam.
Indian religions are practised or were founded in the Indian subcontinent. They are at times classified as the dharmic religions, as they all feature dharma, the specific law of reality and duties expected according to the religion.
Hinduism is a synecdoche describing the similar philosophies of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and related groups practised or founded in the Indian subcontinent. Concepts most of them share in common include karma, caste, reincarnation, mantras, yantras, and darśana. Hinduism is the most ancient of still-active religions, with origins perhaps as far back as prehistoric times. Hinduism isn't a monolithic religion but a religious category containing dozens of separate philosophies amalgamated as Sanātana Dharma, which is the name by which Hinduism has been known throughout history by its followers.
Jainism, taught primarily by Parsva (9th century BCE) and Mahavira (6th century BCE), is an ancient Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence for all forms of living beings in this world. Jains are found mostly in India.
Buddhism was founded by Siddhattha Gotama in the sixth century BCE. Buddhists generally agree that Gotama aimed to help sentient beings end their suffering (dukkha) by understanding the true nature of phenomena, thereby escaping the cycle of suffering and rebirth (saṃsāra), that is, achieving nirvana.
- Theravada Buddhism, which is practised mainly in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia alongside folk religion, shares a few characteristics of Indian religions. It is based in a large collection of texts called the Pali Canon.
- Mahayana Buddhism (or the "Great Vehicle") under which are a multitude of doctrines that became prominent in China and are still relevant in Vietnam, Korea, Japan and to a lesser extent in Europe and the United States. Mahayana Buddhism includes such disparate teachings as Zen, Pure Land, and Soka Gakkai.
- Vajrayana Buddhism first appeared in India in the third century CE. It is currently most prominent in the Himalaya regions and extends across all of Asia (cf. Mikkyō).
- Two notable new Buddhist sects are Hòa Hảo and the Dalit Buddhist movement, which were developed separately in the twentieth century.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded on the teachings of Guru Nanak and ten successive Sikh gurus in fifteenth century Punjab. It is the fifth-largest organised religion in the world, with approximately 30 million Sikhs. Sikhs are expected to embody the qualities of a Sant-Sipāhī—a saint-soldier, have control over one's internal vices and be able to be constantly immersed in virtues clarified in the Guru Granth Sahib. The principal beliefs of Sikhi are faith in Waheguru—represented by the phrase ik ōaṅkār, meaning one God, who prevails in everything, along with a praxis in which the Sikh is enjoined to engage in social reform through the pursuit of justice for all human beings.
Indigenous and folk
Indigenous religions or folk religions refers to a broad category of traditional religions that can be characterised by shamanism, animism and ancestor worship, where traditional means "indigenous, that which is aboriginal or foundational, handed down from generation to generation…". These are religions that are closely associated with a particular group of people, ethnicity or tribe; they often have no formal creeds or sacred texts. Some faiths are syncretic, fusing diverse religious beliefs and practices.
Folk religions are often omitted as a category in surveys even in countries where they're widely practiced, e.g. in China.
African traditional religion encompasses the traditional religious beliefs of people in Africa. In north Africa, these religions have included traditional Berber religion, ancient Egyptian religion, and Waaq. West African religions include Akan religion, Dahomey (Fon) mythology, Efik mythology, Odinani of the Igbo people, Serer religion, and Yoruba religion, while Bushongo mythology, Mbuti (Pygmy) mythology, Lugbara mythology, Dinka religion, and Lotuko mythology come from central Africa. Southern African traditions include Akamba mythology, Masai mythology, Malagasy mythology, San religion, Lozi mythology, Tumbuka mythology, and Zulu mythology. Bantu mythology is found throughout central, southeast, and southern Africa.
Zoroastrianism is based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster in the sixth century BC. Zoroastrians worship the creator Ahura Mazda. In Zoroastrianism good and evil have distinct sources, with evil trying to destroy the creation of Mazda, and good trying to sustain it.
New religious movements
- Shinshūkyō is a general category for a wide variety of religious movements founded in Japan after the nineteenth century. These movements share almost nothing in common except the place of their founding. The largest religious movements centred in Japan include Soka Gakkai, Tenrikyo, and Seicho-No-Ie among hundreds of smaller groups.
- Cao Đài is a syncretistic, monotheistic religion, established in Vietnam in 1926.
- Raëlism is a new religious movement founded in 1974 teaching that humans were created by aliens. It is numerically the world's largest UFO religion.
- Hindu reform movements, such as Ayyavazhi, Swaminarayan Faith and Ananda Marga, are examples of new religious movements within Indian religions.
- Unitarian Universalism is a religion characterised by support for a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning", and has no accepted creed or theology.
- Noahidism is a monotheistic ideology based on the Seven Laws of Noah, and on their traditional interpretations within Rabbinic Judaism.
- Scientology teaches that people are immortal beings who have forgotten their true nature. Its method of spiritual rehabilitation is a type of counselling known as auditing, in which practitioners aim to consciously re-experience and understand painful or traumatic events and decisions in their past in order to free themselves of their limiting effects.
- Eckankar is a pantheistic religion with the purpose of making God an everyday reality in one's life.
- Wicca is a neo-pagan religion first popularised in 1954 by British civil servant Gerald Gardner, involving the worship of a God and Goddess.
- Druidry is a religion promoting harmony with nature, and drawing on the practises of the druids.
- Satanism is a broad category of religions that, for example, worship Satan as a deity (Theistic Satanism) or use "Satan" as a symbol of carnality and earthly values (LaVeyan Satanism).
Sociological classifications of religious movements suggest that within any given religious group, a community can resemble various types of structures, including "churches", "denominations", "sects", "cults", and "institutions".
Because religion continues to be recognised in Western thought as a universal impulse, a large number of religious practitioners have aimed to band together in interfaith dialogue, cooperation, and religious peacebuilding. The first major dialogue was the Parliament of the World's Religions at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, which affirmed "universal values" and recognition of the diversity of practises among different cultures. The twentieth century has been especially fruitful in use of interfaith dialogue as a means of solving ethnic, political, or even religious conflict, with Christian–Jewish reconciliation representing a complete reverse in the attitudes of a large number of Christian communities towards Jews.
Recent interfaith initiatives include "A Common Word", launched in 2007 and focused on bringing Muslim and Christian leaders together, the "C1 World Dialogue", the "Common Ground" initiative between Islam and Buddhism, and a United Nations sponsored "World Interfaith Harmony Week".
Academic study of religion
A number of disciplines study the phenomenon of religion: theology, comparative religion, history of religion, evolutionary origin of religions, anthropology of religion, psychology of religion, including neurosciences of religion and evolutionary psychology of religion, sociology of religion, and Law and Religion.
Daniel L. Pals mentions eight classical theories of religion, focusing on various aspects of religion: animism and magic, by E.B. Tylor and J.G. Frazer; the psycho-analytic approach of Sigmund Freud; and further Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Mircea Eliade, E.E. Evans-Pritchard, and Clifford Geertz.
Michael Stausberg gives an overview of contemporary theories of religion, including cognitive and biological approaches.
The comparative study of religions is an academic discipline which has been developed within Christian theology faculties, and it has a tendency to force widely differing phenomena into a kind of strait-jacket cut to a Christian pattern. The problem isn't only that additional 'religions' might have little or nothing to say about questions which are of burning importance for Christianity, but that they might not even see themselves as religions in precisely the same way in which Christianity sees itself as a religion.
Theories of religion
Origins and development
The origin of religion is uncertain. There are a number of theories regarding the subsequent origins of religious practices.
According to anthropologists John Monaghan and Peter Just, "Many of the great world religions appear to have begun as revitalization movements of a few sort, as the vision of a charismatic prophet fires the imaginations of people seeking a more comprehensive answer to their problems than they feel is provided by everyday beliefs. Charismatic individuals have emerged at a large number of times and places in the world. It seems that the key to long-term success – and a large number of movements come and go with little long-term effect – has relatively little to do with the prophets, who appear with surprising regularity, but more to do with the development of a group of supporters who're able to institutionalise the movement."
The development of religion has taken different forms in different cultures. Some religions place an emphasis on belief, while others emphasise practice. Some religions focus on the subjective experience of the religious individual, while others consider the activities of the religious community to be most important. Some religions claim to be universal, believing their laws and cosmology to be binding for everyone, while others are intended to be practised only by a closely defined or localised group. In a large number of places religion has been associated with public institutions such as education, hospitals, the family, government, and political hierarchies.
Anthropologists John Monoghan and Peter Just state that, "it seems obvious that one thing religion or belief helps us do is deal with problems of human life that are significant, persistent, and intolerable. One important way in which religious beliefs accomplish this is by providing a set of ideas about how and why the world is put together that allows people to accommodate anxieties and deal with misfortune."
While religion is difficult to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who simply called it a "cultural system". A critique of Geertz's model by Talal Asad categorised religion as "an anthropological category". Richard Niebuhr's (1894-1962) five-fold classification of the relationship between Christ and culture, however, indicates that religion and culture can be seen as two separate systems, though not without a few interplay.
One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practise and worship follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings. Among the main proponents of this theory of religion are Daniel Dubuisson, Timothy Fitzgerald, Talal Asad, and Jason Ānanda Josephson. The social constructionists argue that religion is a modern concept that developed from Christianity and was then applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures.
The study of law and religion is a relatively new field, with several thousand scholars involved in law schools, and academic departments including political science, religion, and history after 1980. Scholars in the field aren't only focused on strictly legal issues about religious freedom or non-establishment, but additionally study religions as they're qualified through judicial discourses or legal understanding of religious phenomena. Exponents look at canon law, natural law, and state law, often in a comparative perspective. Specialists have explored themes in western history regarding Christianity and justice and mercy, rule and equity, and discipline and love. Common topics of interest include marriage and the family and human rights. Outside of Christianity, scholars have looked at law and religion links in the Muslim Middle East and pagan Rome.
Studies have focused on secularization. In particular the issue of wearing religious symbols in public, such as headscarves that are banned in French schools, have received scholarly attention in the context of human rights and feminism.
Reason and science
Science acknowledges reason, empiricism, and evidence; and religions include revelation, faith and sacredness whilst additionally acknowledging philosophical and metaphysical explanations with regard to the study of the universe. Both science and religion aren't monolithic, timeless, or static because both are complex social and cultural endeavours that have changed through time across languages and cultures.
The concepts of "science" and "religion" are a recent invention: "religion" emerged in the seventeenth century in the midst of colonisation and globalisation and the Protestant Reformation, "science" emerged in the nineteenth century in the midst of attempts to narrowly define those who studied nature, and the phrase "religion and science" emerged in the nineteenth century due to the reification of both concepts. It was in the nineteenth century that the terms "Buddhism", "Hinduism", "Taoism", and "Confucianism" first emerged. In the ancient and mediaeval world, the etymological Latin roots of both science (scientia) and religion (religio) were understood as inner qualities of the individual or virtues, never as doctrines, practices, or actual sources of knowledge.
In general the scientific method gains knowledge by testing hypotheses to develop theories through elucidation of facts or evaluation by experiments and thus only answers cosmological questions about the universe that can be observed and measured. It develops theories of the world which best fit physically observed evidence. All scientific knowledge is subject to later refinement, or even rejection, in the face of additional evidence. Scientific theories that have an overwhelming preponderance of favourable evidence are often treated as de facto verities in general parlance, such as the theories of general relativity and natural selection to explain respectively the mechanisms of gravity and evolution.
Religion doesn't have a method per se partly because religions emerge through time from diverse cultures and it is an attempt to find meaning in the world, and to explain humanity's place in it and relationship to it and to any posited entities. In terms of Christian theology and ultimate truths, people rely on reason, experience, scripture, and tradition to test and gauge what they experience and what they should believe. Furthermore, religious models, understanding, and metaphors are additionally revisable, as are scientific models.
Regarding religion and science, Albert Einstein states (1940): "For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the additional hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action; it can't justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts…Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion might be that which determine the goals, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up."
Morality and religion
Many religions have value frameworks regarding personal behaviour meant to guide adherents in determining between right and wrong. These include the Triple Jems of Jainism, Judaism's Halacha, Islam's Sharia, Catholicism's Canon Law, Buddhism's Eightfold Path, and Zoroastrianism's "good thoughts, good words, and good deeds" concept, among others. Religion and morality aren't synonymous. Morality doesn't necessarily depend upon religion although this is "an almost automatic assumption." According to The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics, religion and morality "are to be defined differently and have no definitional connexions with each other. Conceptually and in principle, morality and a religious value system are two distinct kinds of value systems or action guides."
According to global research done by Gallup on people from 145 countries, adherents of all the major world religions who attended religious services in the past week have higher rates of generosity such as donating money, volunteering, and helping a stranger than do their coreligionists who didn't attend services (non-attenders). Even for people who were nonreligious, those who said they attended religious services in the past week exhibited more generous behaviors. An Additional global study by Gallup on people from 140 countries showed that highly religious people are more likely to help others in terms of donating money, volunteering, and helping strangers notwithstanding them having, on average, lower incomes than those who're less religious or nonreligious.
A comprehensive study by Harvard University professor Robert Putnam found that religious people are more charitable than their irreligious counterparts. The study revealed that forty percent of worship service attending Americans volunteer regularly to help the poor and elderly as opposed to fifteen percent of Americans who never attend services. Moreover, religious individuals are more likely than non-religious individuals to volunteer for school and youth programmes (36% vs. 15%), a neighbourhood or civic group (26% vs. 13%), and for health care (21% vs. 13%). Other research has shown similar correlations between religiosity and giving.
Religious belief appears to be the strongest predictor of charitable giving. One study found that average charitable giving in 2000 by religious individuals ($2,210) was over three times that of secular individuals ($642). Giving to non-religious charities by religious individuals was $88 higher. Religious individuals are additionally more likely to volunteer time, donate blood, and give back money when accidentally given too much change. A 2007 study by the The Barna Group found that "active-faith" individuals (those who had attended a church service in the past week) reported that they had given on average $1,500 in 2006, while "no-faith" individuals reported that they had given on average $200. "Active-faith" adults claimed to give twice as much to non-church-related charities as "no-faith" individuals claimed to give. They were additionally more likely to report that they were registered to vote, that they volunteered, that they personally helped someone who was homeless, and to describe themselves as "active in the community."
Some scientific studies show that the degree of religiosity is generally found to be associated with higher ethical attitudes — for example, surveys suggesting a positive connexion between faith and altruism. Survey research suggests that believers do tend to hold different views than non-believers on a variety of social, ethical and moral questions. According to a 2003 survey conducted in the United States by The Barna Group, those who described themselves as believers were less likely than those describing themselves as atheists or agnostics to consider the following behaviours morally acceptable: cohabitating with someone of the opposite sex outside of marriage, enjoying sexual fantasies, having an abortion, sexual relationships outside of marriage, gambling, looking at pictures of nudity or explicit sexual behavior, getting drunk, and "having a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex."
Religion has a significant impact on the political system in a large number of countries. Notably, most Muslim-majority countries adopt various aspects of sharia, the Islamic law. Some countries even define themselves in religious terms, such as The Islamic Republic of Iran. The sharia thus affects up to twenty-three percent of the global population, or 1.57 billion people who're Muslims. Notwithstanding religion additionally affects political decisions in a large number of western countries. For instance, in the United States, 51 percent of voters would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who didn't believe in God, and only six percent more likely. Christians make up 92 percent of members of the US Congress, compared with 71 percent of the general public (as of 2014). At the same time, while twenty-three percent of U.S. adults are religiously unaffiliated, only one member of Congress (Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona), or 0.2% of that body, claims no religious affiliation. In most European countries, however, religion has a much smaller influence on politics although it used to be much more important. For instance, same-sex marriage and abortion were illegal in a large number of European countries until recently, following Christian (usually Catholic) doctrine. Several European leaders are atheists (e.g. France’s president Francois Hollande or Greece's prime minister Alexis Tsipras). In Asia, the role of religion differs widely between countries. For instance, India is still one of the most religious countries and religion still has a strong impact on politics, given that Hindu nationalists have been targeting minorities like the Muslims and the Christians, who historically belonged to the lower castes. By contrast, countries such as China or Japan are largely secular and thus religion has a much smaller impact on politics.
One study has found there's a negative correlation between self-defined religiosity and the wealth of nations. In additional words, the richer a nation is, the less likely its inhabitants to call themselves "religious", whatever this word means to them (Many people identify themselves as part of a religion (not irreligion) but don't self-identify as "religious").
According to a study from 2015, Christians hold the largest amount of wealth (55% of the total world wealth), followed by Muslims (5.8%), Hindus (3.3%) and Jewish (1.1%). According to the same study it was found that adherents under the classification Irreligion or additional religions hold about 34.8% of the total global wealth.
Mayo Clinic researchers examined the association between religious involvement and spirituality, and physical health, mental health, health-related quality of life, and additional health outcomes. The authors reported that: "Most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, and health-related quality of life (even throughout terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression, and suicide."
The authors of a subsequent study concluded that the influence of religion on health is "largely beneficial", based on a review of related literature. According to academic James W. Jones, several studies have discovered "positive correlations between religious belief and practise and mental and physical health and longevity."
An analysis of data from the 1998 US General Social Survey, whilst broadly confirming that religious activity was associated with better health and well-being, additionally suggested that the role of different dimensions of spirituality/religiosity in health is rather more complicated. The results suggested "that it might not be appropriate to generalise findings about the relationship between spirituality/religiosity and health from one form of spirituality/religiosity to another, across denominations, or to assume effects are uniform for men and women.
Superstition has been described as "the incorrect establishment of cause and effect" or a false conception of causation. Religion is more complex and is mostly composed of social institutions and morality. But a few religions might include superstitions or make use of magical thinking. Adherents of one religion at times think of additional religions as superstition. Some atheists, deists, and skeptics regard religious belief as superstition.
Greek and Roman pagans, who saw their relations with the gods in political and social terms, scorned the man who constantly trembled with fear at the thought of the gods (deisidaimonia), as a slave might fear a cruel and capricious master. The Romans called such fear of the gods superstitio.
The Roman Catholic Church considers superstition to be sinful in the sense that it denotes a lack of trust in the divine providence of God and, as such, is a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that superstition "in a few sense represents a perverse excess of religion" (para. #2110). "Superstition," it says, "is a deviation of religious feeling and of the practises this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in a few way magical to certain practises otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand is to fall into superstition. Cf. Matthew 23:16-22" (para. #2111)
Secularism and atheism
Secularization is the transformation of a society from close identification with religious values and institutions toward an inclusive and plural society free from religious privilege, prejudice and discrimination.
The term secularisation is additionally used in the context of the lifting of the monastic restrictions from a member of the clergy.
Agnosticism and Atheism
The terms "atheist" (lack of belief in any gods) and "agnostic" (belief in the unknowability of the existence of gods), though specifically contrary to theistic (e.g. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) religious teachings, don't by definition mean the opposite of "religious". There are religions (including Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism), in fact, that classify a few of their followers as agnostic, atheistic, or nontheistic. The true opposite of "religious" is the word "irreligious". Irreligion describes an absence of any religion; antireligion describes an active opposition or aversion toward religions in general.
Criticism of religious violence
Critics like Hector Avalos Regina Schwartz, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have argued that religions are inherently violent and harm to society by using violence to promote their goals, in ways that are endorsed and exploited by their leaders.
Anthropologist Jack David Eller asserts that religion isn't inherently violent, arguing "religion and violence are clearly compatible, but they aren't identical." He asserts that "violence is neither essential to nor exclusive to religion" and that " virtually every form of religious violence has its nonreligious corollary."
- Cult (religious practice)
- Index of religion-related articles
- Life stance
- List of foods with religious symbolism
- List of religious populations
- List of religious texts
- Morality and religion
- Nontheistic religions
- Outline of religion
- Philosophy of religion
- Religion and happiness
- Religion and peacebuilding
- Religions by country
- Religious conversion
- Sociology of religion
- Timeline of religion