The role of religion

What is religion?

To put it simply, religion is a social practice which uses multiple methods to explain humanity, the spiritual side of people, the universe and – in most cases – divinity. That said, there is no consensus as to what religion truly is. Some people take it to mean only organised religion where worship is conducted through ritual. Others see it as something that is bound up with their personal identity and which could not be shared even if they wanted it to. In the main, religions state moral positions that followers ought to stick to. Many religions also promote certain practices that are encouraged. These are often referred to as observances. Many types of religion have world views that cover all aspects of humanity, including the afterlife. Critics of organised religion usually point out how it has been used throughout history as a form of social control.

 Why does religion matter?

Even to an atheist – someone who denies the existence of god – religion must have some social significance. This is because religious behaviour has shaped so much of human history. It is not really possible to understand the history of the West, for example, without knowing at least the basics of Christian belief since so many of the societies and rulers concerned adhered to that religion. The same goes for other parts of the world where other major religions are prevalent. Besides, religion matters because billions of people on the planet remain religious. At a personal level, religiosity matters because it is a big part of how many people identify themselves and organise their lives.

Why is religion taught in schools?

In some cases, religion is taught in certain schools to give instruction. Muslim schools, for example, will focus on teaching holy scripture. The same can be said of religious schools teaching children about Hinduism, Judaism, and so on. In secular schools, religion is taught to explain the world as it is. In many education systems, religious education is comparative, so children gain a wider understanding of many religious and spiritual ideas. This is different from religious instruction.

What theories help to explain religion?

To some scholars, religion is a social construction. In other words, societies of all kinds have needed it – or something like it – to develop cohesion. For others, cultural explanations seem more plausible whereby religious thoughts come about through a shared wider culture. The cognitive scientific approach focusses on religious ideas by studying anthropology and cognitive psychology. In some cases, religious beliefs have been shown to share common traits with certain psychological disorders.

Will religion become obsolete?

Given that the majority of the world's population associate themselves with either a major religious belief or a folk-based one, it seems to be in a healthy state. This may change as natural science continues to explain the world more fully. However, science has some limitations, and religious leaders continue to provide answers to questions it cannot yet answer.

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