What is Religion?

Religion is a system of beliefs and practices that gives people an object of devotion, someone or something they believe in, a code of behavior to follow, and a sense of meaning and purpose. It often deals with supernatural or spiritual concepts, about forces and powers that are beyond the understanding of humans. It is also a set of ideas about life, death and the universe that give people hope and comfort and a belief in an afterlife.

There are many different theories about the origin of Religion. Anthropologists (scientists who study human societies and human development) suggest that religion evolved as a response to either a biological or a cultural need. For example, the concept of an afterlife was developed to help humans cope with the fact that they will eventually die and cannot control their fate. It offers a promise of reunion with loved ones and a chance to go on to a better place.

Religious systems protect and transmit the means through which people can attain the proximate and ultimate goals of their lives, as these are designated within the system itself. These goals may include avoiding punishment after death, as in the religions of Christianity and Islam; finding enlightenment, peace or emptiness, as in Jainism and Buddhism; and gaining salvation, as in Hinduism and Judaism.

Religions organize themselves into complex systems that require specialists to administer and supervise them. These specialists may be priests, witches, shamans, gurus, imams and rabbis. They are the protectors and transmitters of the valuation, ritual and doctrinal elements of the religion and the guardians of the boundaries of its system.