What Is Religion and How Does It Affect Us?
Religion is a complex topic with a wide range of impacts on the lives of individuals and communities. It can bring people together, but it can also cause divisions and stress. It can help people find meaning in their lives and guide them through difficult times, but it can also lead to hatred and violence.
Religions satisfy many human needs and desires. They often teach moral lessons, such as do no harm to others or treat one another fairly. They also provide a sense of security, which is especially important for the young. Religions also try to explain how the universe works (not as well as science does). Finally, religions encourage people to procreate and provide a sense of belonging and identity.
Most attempts to analyze religion have been “monothetic”, operating under the classical view that every instance of a concept will share some property that distinguishes it from other cases. But a few recent developments have led to the rise of “polythetic” approaches that abandon this classic definition and look instead for properties that are characteristic of all instances of religion.
For example, University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his former graduate student Jesse Graham have suggested that religion co-evolved with morality to serve the function of binding people into large moral communities. Haidt and Graham argue that religion reinforces social stability by providing a set of common beliefs and a communal practice such as the frequent gathering at houses of worship.