Religion is a way of life that most people in the world practice. It involves believing in one or more gods, and often includes rites of worship, sacred books, a clergy, and beliefs about the afterlife and other mysterious aspects of the universe. Whether it is a belief in Jesus or of the Bahai faith, there are many different religions in the world. Some people are very religious, while others are not very religious at all.
Anthropologists (scientists who study human cultures and human origins) believe that religion may have developed out of two needs: a desire to control uncontrollable parts of the environment, such as weather and fertility, and a fear of death. They think that early religions tried to save people from death by giving them a spiritual afterlife. They also thought that the world was created by a supreme god or goddess, and prayed to it for help.
More recently, some scholars have criticized the idea of a religion as a taxon, arguing that it is wrong to treat all forms of social life as religious. They argue that social structures have existed without being given a name and that it is problematic to use the term to label all such practices as “religions.” These critics of the concept of religion often argue that the modern semantic expansion of the word went hand in hand with European colonialism.
Others have offered functional definitions of religion, such as Emile Durkheim’s definition that religion is whatever dominant concern serves to organize a person’s values or Paul Tillich’s definition that religion is all the things a person believes. These approaches to the concept of religion are sometimes referred to as polythetic and avoid the classical view that every instance of a concept will share a single property that puts it in that category.