The Phenomenon of Religion


Religion is a complex and controversial topic. It is hard to define, but most people believe that it encompasses a belief in a god or spirit, a code of moral conduct, and a system of rituals for celebrating life’s milestones. Most of the world’s 6.5 billion people participate in one or more religions. These range from Christianity, with its 2.1 billion followers, to Rastafarianism and Scientology, with their 1.5 million each.

Anthropologists (scientists who study human societies and origins) suggest that religion developed as a reaction to the realization that death is inevitable. It also arose from the need to create a sense of community and a set of beliefs that can guide and help us through life’s problems and challenges.

In addition, most religions emphasize doing good for family, friends, and others—an aspect of morality that helps to keep communities together and provides a framework for charity activities. These benefits are the primary reasons why many people say they participate in religion.

A variety of scholars have tried to analyze the phenomenon of religion, and most of these approaches have been “monothetic”—they operate with the classical view that every instance that accurately describes a concept will share a defining property. But the last several decades have seen a growing number of scholars adopting an “eclectic” or “polythetic” approach to the term, which drops the substantive definition and defines it based on what a form of religion can do for society.

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