Religion is a large and varied field of belief. It combines beliefs, rituals and social organization and is a significant force in people’s lives. It can bring meaning and purpose to life and help control emotions and behaviours. It can also form the backbone of social welfare networks providing schools, hospitals and charities. Research shows that religious people tend to be more stable in their relationships and that joining a church or synagogue increases lifespan.
People who study religion come from many different disciplines and perspectives and there is no simple answer to what is religion. Some, like anthropologists and sociologists, look at the social structures of religion. Others, such as psychologists and neuroscientists, focus on the mental and emotional effects of religion. Some see religion as a natural human phenomenon, while others view it as a cultural construct that is learned rather than innate.
The earliest religions are thought to have arisen in the fertile crescent of Egypt and Mesopotamia. From there, complex beliefs developed about gods and supernatural beings. These were accompanied by myths and a system of moral conduct. The earliest religions were polytheistic, believing in several gods and goddesses. These beliefs were combined with social structures including worship and community rituals.