Religion is the relation of humans to that which they regard as sacred or spiritual, as well as their concerns about life and death. This relation is often regarded as including belief in gods or spirits; it may also include beliefs that relate to the broader human community or to the natural world.
There is no single definition of religion, and the concept has developed over time in response to a variety of different needs. This development has been facilitated by the emergence of the philosophy of religion as a separate branch of philosophy.
It has also been shaped by the study of tribal and “primitive” societies, which have led to speculation about the genesis of religion and its functions in those cultures. Anthropologists have studied cave paintings and other evidence of early rituals that suggest that humans had an interest in controlling uncontrollable aspects of their environment, such as weather and success in hunting.
The anthropologists also have studied the remains of prehistoric humans, revealing that they cared for their dead through burial practices and that they had an interest in a supernatural world. The Neanderthals, a subspecies of modern humans that no longer exists, were thought to have had a strong belief in an afterlife.
In the twentieth century, philosophers have sought to answer these questions by developing various types of definitions of religion. Most of these definitions are based on the idea that religious beliefs and practices have a distinctive role in people’s lives. These definitions, however, are not universal.