Religion is a set of beliefs and practices that gives people something sacred to believe in, someone to worship, and a code of conduct. It deals with ultimate concerns like life after death, the nature of the universe, and what is good and evil.
There are many different theories of religion. Some, such as those of Paul Tillich, argue that religion is a response to human beings’ fundamental questions about the meaning of life and their own existence. Others, such as those of Ninian Smart and Catherine Albanese, argue that religion is a way for humans to deal with their fear of the unknown and their desire for meaning in their lives.
Many academics also take a scientific approach to the study of religion. Anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists, for example, have studied the origins of religion by examining early attempts by human beings to control uncontrollable parts of their environment. They have observed that these early attempts were based on either manipulation (magic) or supplication (religion).
Some scholars, such as those who take a Marxist or Postmodernist view of culture, are critical of the term “religion” itself. They argue that it is an abstract, socially constructed concept used to sort cultural types and therefore shouldn’t be treated with the same seriousness as other terms such as “literature” or “democracy”. These critics argue that it is better to use a term such as “belief system” or “morality” to describe what it is that people believe in.