Religion is a social phenomenon that arises out of people’s need to have faith, meaning and value in their lives. People are willing to live and at times die for their beliefs and for the values they believe in. Other things that provide sources of faith and meaning are science, family and society. However, religion is the primary source of faith and meaning for most humans. It is a way for people to communicate their beliefs and values with others and to transmit them from one generation to the next.
Many scholars have tried to define religion, but it is difficult to pin down exactly what religion is. Many definitions have to do with the belief in spiritual beings or a higher reality, but there are people who have religious beliefs that do not include gods or spirits and there are religions that do not have an afterlife or supernatural dimensions.
Some anthropologists (scientists who study human cultures) believe that religion evolved as a response to a biological or a cultural need. They suggest that when humans became self-aware, they realized that they would eventually die and that they needed something to believe in that gave them a sense of purpose and hope in this life and, possibly, a chance to go on to another life.
Other anthropologists believe that religion is the result of a cultural need to control or direct the future. They argue that people need a way to explain the causes of their problems and to find solutions for them. They also need a way to create an order for their lives and to control the world around them. Religion gives people a set of rules to follow that help them to cope with these needs.
People in every culture have created religions that serve different purposes and answer different questions, but they all share certain basic elements. These are: a belief in something sacred or holy; a code of behavior or morality; a belief that there is a higher power or authority that judges and protects; and a system of rituals or ceremonies to show devotion and respect.
Whether it is Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Rastafarianism, most people in the world have a religion that they participate in. Some of these religions are small, like Scientology or the Bahai faith, but most of them have many members. There are more than 6.5 billion religious believers in the world. It is a remarkable global phenomenon that seems to be universal in experience and need, although there are people who do not have any religion.