Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, practices and ethics. It provides a framework that helps people make sense of their lives and gives them meaning and purpose. It also provides a way to cope with life’s stresses, such as loss or death. Research has shown that people who are religious have better mental and physical health than those who do not practice religion.
The word “religion” derives from the Latin “re-“ (“back”) and luthera (“rule”). It is an ancient concept, but it continues to influence modern thinking about the world and human beings. The philosopher Emile Durkheim was one of the first to understand that religion has a social function. He described its functions as follows:
One of the most important functions of religion is to create a moral code that guides the behavior of individuals and groups. Its rules help people avoid social problems, such as out-of-wedlock births, crime, delinquency, drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness. In addition, the practice of religion has the power to reduce social pathologies, such as racial and ethnic tensions, poverty and violence motivated by religious differences.
Some scientists argue that religion originated as a response to humans’ awareness of their own mortality. They believe that it helped us to recognize our own finiteness and made us aware of the need for a spiritual path to transcend it. This understanding of religion is not a complete explanation, however. Religion can also motivate hatred and violence in the name of religion and lead to wars, persecutions and other forms of oppression.