Understanding Religion

Religion is an interdependent body of distinctive set of practices and rituals, moral codes, beliefs, values, rituals, and taboos, which relates humanity as a group with respect to each other and the environment. A religion has its own specific internal structure, and that determines its nature, aim, and purpose. The comparative study of religion has become important as each society has developed over time, and there has been considerable change in religion in different societies. Religious beliefs and practices have developed across time and space, in different cultures and locations. In most cases, religion has been negatively impacted by contact with new cultures, new technologies and other external factors.

The impact of religion on society can be seen today in many places. One example is in the United States. Religions have been a significant force in American life since the founding of the country, especially in the early days, when European colonists brought with them their religions, practices and beliefs. For instance, the Pilgrims brought their religion, Christianity, with them when they headed the Plymouth colony. They followed many of the practices associated with their religion: abstaining from hunting and fishing, living communally, maintaining monogamous marriage, maintaining a Sabbath, observing special days of the week, paying church dues, and following their religions’ rules regarding chastity, childbearing and marriage. All these practices were vital to the survival of the settlers and to their way of life during the colonial era.

Over time, the practices associated with many religions have changed. However, there has been some notable exception. In some societies, for instance, in Asia, Africa and some Middle Eastern countries, religious rituals, including some aspects of ritual slaughter, continue to be important to the people. In other societies, like in Western Europe, organized forced conversions to Christianity are still practiced to this day. Religious intolerance and war are other key features of many religions, as well.