What Is Religion?

Religion is a unified system of beliefs and feelings shared by groups that gives members something sacred to believe in, a set of rituals to perform, and a moral code to live by. Religious beliefs and practices also tend to be based on supernatural or spiritual concepts, about forces and beings that are beyond the realm of human experience. Religions often have leaders who gain almost godlike status.

Psychologists, who study the human mind, have argued that people turn to religion because it answers their emotional and psychological needs, such as their fear of death or a desire for meaning and purpose in life. Neuroscientists have found that certain parts of the brain are activated during religious experiences.

The word “religion” is derived from the Latin word for “sacred.” However, what is sacred differs between religions. While many scholars argue that the concept of religion is culturally bound, others have argued that there is nothing to prevent Buddhism or capitalism from being considered a religion. Some critics have gone so far as to suggest that the very idea of religion is a modern European invention, and that it should be abandoned (see neo-atheism).

Scholars generally agree that religions share some features, including the tradition and maintenance of a belief system, the use of myth and symbol, a set of ritual actions and ritual objects, a concept of salvation, and a moral code. In addition, religions have a common history and often have an all-important sense of community. They also have a common material expression, such as statues, paintings, musical compositions, flowers, incense, and elaborate clothing.

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