Religion is a collection of beliefs and practices that people follow, often accompanied by moral teachings and observance of ritual. It can also include social activities such as prayer, service to others and participation in religious institutions. Most religions also have a figure or group of figures that believers look up to as their leader.
Some scientists believe that the human need for religion grew both out of curiosity about life after death and out of fear of uncontrollable forces such as weather or predators. These forces led some humans to try to manipulate the environment through magic, while others tried to make themselves less vulnerable by appealing to supernatural powers. Eventually the latter became what we think of as religions, and the magic as what we call spirituality.
Research shows that most religions have positive effects on individuals, families and communities. For example, they can improve health and education and promote tolerance, cooperation and empathy. They also help to reduce stress and to stabilize emotional variability – for example, by fostering the belief that someone else or something bigger than oneself is in control.
Scientists have been developing a classification system for different religions, and while the exact number of characteristics that distinguish a religion is still unknown, it has emerged that most of them share common features. These common characteristics include: