What Is Religion?


Faith is a human response to the ultimate questions of life. Belief in God, spirits, a divine order or some other force provides hope and comfort to millions of people. Many religions also teach ethical values, provide a sense of social structure, and serve as the backbone for welfare systems around the world. The belief in a higher power or the existence of a cosmological order is common to many cultures and has evolved over time in response to various environmental factors.

Many evolutionary psychologists have argued that religion has evolved to satisfy a human need for explanations about the world and themselves. They believe that humans have an innate desire to understand how the universe works, and that religion serves this need (although not as well as science does). Religions provide a set of guidelines to help people live together peacefully, and to provide some sense of security in uncertain times. Many religions have a hierarchy of figures of authority, which helps to control behaviors that might damage the group. Religions provide a way to pass on moral values to the next generation.

Emile Durkheim emphasized the functions that religion can perform for society, and these ideas have continued to shape sociological thinking on religion. Others have critiqued the concept of religion, saying that it is a modern invention and that we should stop treating it as if it names something real. This critique has led to the idea that religion is only a social construct, but critics of this view argue that it does not necessarily follow that there are no religious things at all.