Religion ipar4d is a complex phenomenon that can be difficult to define. In spite of this, most of the world’s population identifies with some form of religion. Although many religions appear quite different from one another, a few common characteristics run through most. These include beliefs in a creator god or gods, the afterlife, moral conduct and a system of social organization that binds believers to each other and to a particular religious doctrine or practice. It is these fundamental features that make religions such an important part of the human experience and human need.
The word religion comes from the Latin word religio. It can mean’religious faith’ or ‘to bind’, as in the practice of prayer and devotional activities. There is some disagreement over the meaning of the word, with some scholars arguing that it should be used to describe any belief or system of beliefs regarding ultimate ideas about life, death and a purpose to life. Others argue that a definition of religion should be narrower, including only those beliefs and practices that are systematically believed and embraced as true. Still others use the term to refer to a set of cultural practices that have been adopted by a community and enacted as laws or values. A number of laws and political systems protect a person’s right to practice his or her religion, even if the religion seems illogical or unreasonable to others.
There are many different approaches to the study of religion. Some scientists, such as psychologists and neuroscientists, suggest that religion answers a need in the human mind, for example a fear of death or a desire for a spiritual experience. Anthropologists, who study the origin of human cultures, have suggested that religion evolved as a response to either a biological or a cultural need.
Other scholars use a polythetic approach to the concept of religion, which defines it as a class of phenomena that always displays certain properties. While a polythetic approach can produce definitions that are too broad or too narrow, it can also be useful in discovering patterns that may shed light on the nature of religion. Various disciplines such as psychology, sociology and anthropology examine religions cross sectionally to find these patterns. Scholars in these fields have often focused on identifying the ‘fifth C’ of Ninian Smart’s famous model of the ‘true, the beautiful and the good’ – a materialist dimension that acknowledges that all religions incorporate a belief in a physical reality. This makes the concept of religion far more robust than a single-sided monotheistic or atheist model would suggest. It can also be helpful in explaining how the diverse forms of religion that exist today all have a common root. It also suggests that the differences between them can be explained by a variety of factors rather than just an argument over truth claims. This is particularly useful when dealing with religious disputes that can result in terrorism, war and genocide.