Religion is a cultural system of behaviors, practices and ethics. It includes beliefs, practices, and rituals that are based on supernatural or moral teachings.
The word “religion” is derived from the Latin religo, meaning “to bind or fasten.” Its modern semantic expansion, however, went hand in hand with European colonialism. The word has been criticized for its ambiguity and for being a Western invention, leading some critics to argue that it is a social construct with no objective meaning.
Throughout history, religions have developed in many different forms, from tribal totems and ancestor worship to a belief in multiple gods. Early written records of religions come from Egypt and Mesopotamia, where they often included a number of gods and goddesses as well as sacrifices and a set of rules for proper behavior.
Anthropologists have studied religions from an empirical perspective, focusing on how religious beliefs and practices generate community cohesion and provide direction in life. In doing so, they have also tried to answer questions about the genesis of religion. But a tidy account of the development of religion in prehistory is unlikely to yield decisive results, and so anthropologists have increasingly turned to functional or structural accounts of religion.
In addition to phenomenology, which studies religion by observing how it actually is experienced, other approaches include theological analysis and social science research. Theological analysis is especially important, as it has informed the development of religion. For example, theologians have argued that the existence of religion is a natural consequence of man’s awareness of his dependence on and hope for Divine help.