| One of many articles on
|The main players|
|—Dr. Pascal Boyer, commenting on religions|
A religion is a systematic set of beliefs, rituals and codifications of behaviour that revolves around a particular group's worldview (views about the world at large and humanity's place in the world). Typically, these beliefs center around some aspect of the supernatural which is most often expressed as some form of deity, ie., gods and goddesses.
To the extent that the system of beliefs and rules are codified, they are called dogma; religions vary in how much dogma they include and how strictly they define it and enforce it. Religious mythology may have some basis in historical events. Despite this religious beliefs tend to arise from human's trying to explain their world, and control it, this included other ways of knowing. As a result, the distinction between a "supernatural religious belief" and superstition tends to be only in the bias of the one applying the label.
 Definition and identification
Like "beauty" and "porn", it is very easy to recognize that a mainstream religion is a religion, however as you move away from the obvious religions, it becomes harder to identify what is and is not a religion. Theravada Buddhism for example is sometimes called a religion, other times a philosophy.
The following list are things academics look for, to define a set of beliefs and practices as a religion:
- Religions are generally shared social systems. A solitary follower of a set of beliefs he or she made up, is generally not considered part of a religion.
- Religions have mythologies, usually containing major supernatural themes. (Most believers of any particular tradition tend to see their own mythology as "distinct" and "unique" because they are "more or less" true, whilst all other mythologies are just myths. Hinduism is a specific exception to this rule.)
- According to William James  symbolism to depict the unknown is central to all religions.
- Religions address a person's path in life through rites of passage, including rites of marriage, coming of age, and funerary rites. Most religions have some form of rite for those who wish or are pressured to follow the religion more intimately (including priests, healers, monks, nuns, shamans, etc.)
- Religions explore and attempt to answer life's mysterious questions (What happens before life and after death? What is the meaning of life? Where do lost socks go?)
- Religions generally attempt to explain about the beginning and ending of the world, even if their answer is "no one knows" or "look to science for answers".
- Religions, being social, provide guidelines for morality or ethics and how to best live in the world. These views are usually supported by the mythology and holy texts and may be recorded as part of the dogma.
- Beyond the rites of life, religions generally have other ritual acts of worship, especially social ones.
- Taboos; a proscribed list of things that must not be done or else very bad things will happen.
- A requirement to have faith in the religion's ideals, mythology (as "truth"), and the legitimacy of the religion as source for the dogma.
- Festivals that take place at certain times of the year, marking historical and/or mythological aspects of the religion.
To what extent each religion has the above features varies widely. Some religions are so bereft of unprovable dogma that they could be called philosophies. At the other extreme, some are rife with superstition, myth taken as fact, and harshly enforced rules.
 History of religion (including events and dates)
Simplistic gods were believed to be in the human mindset roughly 10,000 years ago as human saw "life" itself as mysterious and sacred. Primitive religious practices are known from as early as the paleolithic era, 100,000 years ago. Archeological burial sites show what is argued as a belief in some kind of "after life" from items found with the deceased, placement of the body, and paintings on the body.
- 230,000 BCE - Pontnewydd cave burial
- 98,000 Neanderthal burial sites found
- 25,000 Burials found showing indications of more ceremony in the ornamentation, painting with Red Ocher
The earliest evidence of organized religions begin in the Neolithic era. There is great debate whether religion allows the expansion of social groups from bands to tribes to chiefdom, or if the opposite is true - a set level of social structure is necessary to allow a religion to grow. It is undeniable that virtually every society larger than tribe had a complex religious structure that either empowered the leadership or was itself the governance of the chiefdom. Control of a society appears to have been largely depend upon control of the religion and the associated world view.
- 9100-7000 Göbekli Tepe, generally accepted as a site of worship. It is the oldest site found to date.
- 3100 BCE - Stonehenge: initial construction begins.
With writing came more and more complex ideas about the world, as well as codification of the myths and ethical codes. And with the advent of Holy texts came the reliance on dogma and associated wars over who's belief was The Truth. The earliest formal religions include the Sumerians (4000BCE) and Assyrians(3700 BCE) in ancient Mesopotamia, and ancient Egypt (3700 BCE). Followed by the Hebrew religion (2000s), Zoroastrianism (1700s) and the Vedic era (1700-1000) in India.
Sadly, many religions throughout history have been and often continue to be unable to separate the supernatural from the rules, and the clumsy rules from the elegant ones.
 Modern religion
For the last thousand years, religious life in the West has been dominated by the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the latter two claiming the most followers. These religions have traditionally demanded that their adherents form a tight and at least somewhat homogeneous bloc, professing or following a non-negotiable set of principles handed down by a prophet or the magisterium. Various dharmic religions are followed in sothern Asia, such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Dominant religions in eastern Asia include Buddhism and Taoism.
When the Enlightenment came along and the old theological basis of Christianity came under more rigorous questioning, many within the church responded by emphasizing its social role of caring for the needy and aiming to better the world. This eventually gave rise to the tradition of the Social Gospel, which is still influential today in the mainline Protestant traditions and Liberation theology which is active (sometimes with Vatican disaproval) in the Roman Catholic Church.
More recently, with the continued decline of the organized form of the Abrahamic religions, many fairly non-religious people have again adopted a more individualistic approach to life philosophy, assembling a "personal philosophy" that is a grab-bag of the religious, philosophical, and moral concepts that they think or feel works well for them. Others cobble together more explicitly religious ideas and practices along the same lines; this is called variously neopaganism or cafeteria Christianity depending on the source of the ideas.
Many modern societies function very well without the strong religious underpinning in the more religious parts of the United States. 
A minority, by contrast, have chosen to insert their heads where the sun don't shine and attempt to ignore this decline, still insisting that everyone accept every teaching of their religion as absolutely true. These people are known as fundamentalists.
 Religion and science
Historically, religions, especially Islam and Christianity, have asserted control over people, wealth and cultural memes. As science has improved its explanations of reality, the two bodies have experienced friction.
The histories of both Christianity and Islam have included moments where they have been the developers of new thought, science and knowledge, and conversely, there are many times when they have attempted to severely suppress science, philosophy, and free thinking.
Throughout the rest of the world, religions have generally encouraged naturalistic explorations and explanations, finding successful ways to integrate the two, or accept them as different answers for the same questions. It is difficult for most who grow up in a Western Abrahamic tradition to imagine a religion which does not, at some level, rely on supernatural or miraculous explanations.
 Examples of science-friendly attitudes within religion
- In the Middle Ages, the Muslim world had a mini-renaissance due to their open-mindedness towards science.
- In the modern era, many Christian denominations accept modern science and its ramifications. NOMA frequently involves cherry picking some aspects of science and rejecting others, see Criticisms of NOMA.
- The Irenaean theodicy to explain the existence of evil in the world is dependent upon the 'evolution' (his words) of humans. It is, perhaps, interesting to note that he was writing in 160 CE.
- The Roman Catholic Church's acceptance of Theistic evolution - though with Adam and Eve involved somewhere in the fall.
- The Bahai Faith has a tenet expressly concerning the "Unity between science and religion". They do not go so far as to claim they are the same thing, but insist one is worthless without the other. According to Baha'is, when science and religion irreconcilably disagree, science wins by default.
 Examples of anti-science attitudes within religion
- Every religion that teaches people to trust a holy book over their own eyes (e.g., creationists who trust Genesis more than chemical kinetics or the fossil record). Those who share their dogma (the "faithful") think they are the ultimate truth, even above the evidence of their senses.
- The Roman Catholic Church's treatment of Galileo.
- The opposition to Darwin's theory of evolution by fundamentalists among his contemporaries, and on down to modern times.
 See also
- First Great Awakening
- State Religion
- Freedom From Religion Foundation
- Fun:Starting a new religion
- ↑ In other words, "My religion's rituals and beliefs are real, yours are just silly superstition."
- ↑ Varieties of Religious Experience
- ↑ Noam Chomsky has questioned how valuable this is as a defining characteristic, in any culture where language is based on symbolism at it's core.
- ↑ To the church, he’s public enemy No. 1