Religion is a belief system that includes a set of values, a code of conduct and rituals for worship. It is the most important source of moral guidance for many people. It provides a sense of community and a connection to tradition. Religious practices are also thought to promote good health and can reduce the risk of depression and suicide. Religion is so central to the lives of two-thirds of the world’s population that it can’t be ignored when considering public policy, psychotherapy and education. The development of sociology has allowed a more objective study of religion. Sociologists use methods such as surveys, interviews and analysis of historical data to explore the role of religion in a culture.
Religion can be defined as a system of beliefs and values that has a supernatural component. There are many different religions throughout the world, some more well known than others. The most common religions are Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism, but Buddhism, Shinto and Hockey are also considered to be religions. Some people think that it is impossible to understand religion without taking into account the beliefs of the believers. Other people believe that the term’religion’ is too broad and should be limited to those beliefs and values that have a supernatural component.
Many different theories have been developed to explain the origin of religion. Anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists have looked at the ways in which religion evolved to help humans survive. They have identified that early religion developed as a way for humans to try and control uncontrollable aspects of their environment such as weather, pregnancy and birth and success in hunting. Early religions tried to manipulate these elements by using magic and supplication through prayer. Magic involved attempting to directly control the natural environment through rituals such as drawing pictures of animals on cave walls in an attempt to ensure success in hunting. Religion, on the other hand, involves supplication through prayers to gods and goddesses for intervention.
Functionalists have studied the positive social functions of religion. One of the earliest theorists in this area was Emile Durkheim (1804-72). He argued that religion provided a sense of communal belonging, which kept individuals from becoming anti-social. Durkheim also believed that religions maintained traditions and provided a vitalising force for societies.
More recently, Rodney Stark has studied the role of religion in modern society. He has developed a model that attempts to describe the features of successful religions. He argues that, unlike other social institutions, which change rapidly in response to technological advances, religions adapt slowly and tend to retain older features alongside new ones. Religions also tend to be influenced by the wider social environment in which they operate, so they are not completely independent of their surroundings.