What is religion?

We explain what religion is and the types of religions that exist. In addition, the history of these beliefs and the main religions.

  1. What is religion?

Religion is understood as a set of beliefs, behaviors and cultural , ethical and social values , through which a human collective shares a vision of the world and of existence, and is linked to an idea of ​​the sacred, the transcendent, that is, they give meaning and value to the experience of living.

Religions  played a key role in the earliest stages of human civilization , as matrices of a moral, ethical, social or political code, and even of an exercise of law (jurisprudence), through which each human civilization constructed its lifestyle and its specific concept of duty, all under the idea that there would be one or more watchful gods, capable of giving terrible punishment or just reward.

On the other hand, religions gave man a method to inherit a sense of community and belonging to their descendants, as well as a specific belief in relation to the creation of the world , of life and what happens after death .

Most religions hold dogmas regarding these transcendental issues and are based on the teachings of some founding prophet, usually contained in a sacred book (such as The Bible, the Koran, etc.).

There are an estimated 4000 different religions in the world, and each one  has its rites of communion , its sacred places of pilgrimage, its symbols of faith and its mythology and conception of the divine.

In many cases this means a pantheon of deities, in others an abstract and omnipresent entity. The majority, however, professes faith as one of their highest values , and distinguishes followers of their philosophy from practitioners of other creeds or, also, from those who profess none (called atheists or agnostics).

  1. Types of religions

Monotheistic religions believe in the existence of a unique God.

It is common to distinguish between three types of religious doctrines, according to their particular conception of God and the divine. These types are:

  • M onoteistic religions They are those religions that believe in the existence of a unique God, creator of the universe , and defend their moral and existential codes as the only, universal and true ones. A good example of this is Islam or orthodox Christianity.
  • Oliteist religions Instead of a single God, they believe in a more or less hierarchical pantheon of deities, to which they attribute dominion over the different aspects of human life and nature . A good example of this is the religion of the ancient Greeks, who survived in their literature and mythology.
  • Religions p anteístas. In this case, religions defend that both the creator and the creation, that is, both the physical and the spiritual world, have the same substance and respond to a unique philosophy. A good example of them is Taoism.
  • You are not theistic . They do not postulate the existence of creators and creations, but of universal laws governing human existence. Zen Buddhism is a good example of this.

Origin of religion

Established religions appeared for the first time after the Neolithic revolution, which led to the settlement of human groups, the division of labor, the development of agriculture and, with it, more time spent observing nature.

Neolithic religions, unlike previous shamanic experiences, were structured around three elements: temple, priest and sacrifices (or offerings), which in turn are expressions of the conceptualization of the sacred and the profane .

Role of religion

The function of religion is to consolidate a system of values ​​that allows, on the one hand, the cohesion of the social group based on a common project, and on the other, to create a certain degree of spiritual satisfaction through faith to overcome suffering and achieve happiness.

All religions have their bases and foundations in symbolic / historical stories called myths , understanding as myth a story that explains the origin of life, the justification of its state and its future projection.

All religions are supported by different currents of thought that try to explain who we are and why we have come into the world.

In cultures with writing, religions are based on texts of a sacred nature, which summon their followers around the same spiritual community.

  1. History of religion

Religion has accompanied man since the dawn of time and its appearance, however primitive, represents an important step towards building its own civilization . Funeral rites, annual festivities and other rites commemorating existence are part of its most important manifestations.

Religion played a vital role in the constitution of the first hierarchical societies and the first monarchies, from Ancient Egypt, the Ancient Maya and the Chinese civilization.

It motivated wars , cultural exchanges and architectural developments throughout the world, until in the western nations it was faced with the rationalist thought of the Enlightenment , in the seventeenth century, and finally lost the battle for political control, becoming today in In most countries, a matter linked to cultural identity and citizen privacy, far from the government and the new secular state.

  1. Main religions of the world

Christianity has 33.06% of the faithful in the world.

The main religions of the world according to their number of followers are:

  • Christianity . With 33.06% of the world’s faithful, it is the majority religion today, grouping its different sects such as Catholicism, Protestantism and evangelical churches.
  • Islam . The sister religion of Christianity, of Asian origin, has 20.28% of the world’s faithful in its various expressions, more or less orthodox. It has become sadly famous at the beginning of the 21st century by radical Islamic factions such as the Islamic State.
  • Hinduism . With 13.33% of the faithful, the Hindi religion survives despite the conditions of economic and cultural colonialism suffered by its cradle, the nation of India, during the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century.
  • Religion China . Traditional Chinese religion has the most followers (6.27% of the world) in its territory, despite being a mixed religion whose practices are not always uniform, and have a high degree of syncretism.
  • Buddhism . With 5.87% of the total faithful, Buddhism is the fifth majority religion in the world.

Characteristics of religion

  • It is structured around the belief in one or more forces superior to the human being.
  • It is an interpretation of life, to which he attributes a maximum value.
  • It justifies the characteristics of life, so it provides comfort and / or hope.
  • Distinguish between the sacred and the profane.
  • Build an ethical code.
  • Make up a project for the future.
  • It favors the cohesion of the group that practices it.
  • It is projected through symbols, such as myths or stories (oral or written), objects of sacred art, corporal expressions and rituals.
  • You need a prophet or shaman.
  • Those religions that are written, give rise to temples, priests and sacrifices (or offerings).

Difference between religion and religiosity

The word religion alludes to a socially sanctioned and institutionalized religious doctrine, which involves strict codes and norms around a temple, a priest and some rituals. That is, religion is the normalized belief system.

Rather, religiosity refers to the forms of expression of faith, whether personal or collective, as well as to the behavior of subjects with respect to the creed they profess. In this sense, there may be a correspondence between instituted religion or not.

For example, expressions of popular religiosity are the Holy Week processions or the festivities dedicated to patron saints, such as San Juan or San Pedro. These, although within the Catholic universe, are not part of the official rituals of the Church, but depend entirely on the laity. For this reason, heretical elements can sometimes creep in or mix with other beliefs available in the cultural environment.

Natural religion

In philosophy, natural religion is called that which removes the symbolic and imaginative elements attributed to the deity, to refer it to the strict terms of reason . We speak, then, of deism . The concept of natural religion is opposed to the concept of positive religion, to which all those that resort to stories and symbolic elements correspond.

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