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This article is about a general set of beliefs about existence. For other uses, see Religion (disambiguation)“Religious” redirects here. For a member of a Catholic religious institute, see Religious (Catholicism).

humanitReligion is a cultural system of behaviors and practicesworld views, ethics, and nsocialorganisatio that relate humanity to an order of existence. 84% of the world’s population are affiliated with one of the five largest religions, namely Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or folk religion. The large diversity of religious beliefs and practices has been called theodiversity.

The study of religion encompasses a wide variety of academic disciplines, including comparative religion and social scientific studies. Theories of religion offer explanations for the origins and workings of religion.

With the onset of the modernisation of and the scientific revolution in the western world, some aspects of religion have cumulatively been criticized. Though non-religion has been rising in the west, they are still a minority in the region and globally many who are not affiliated with a religion still have various religious beliefs. Related aspects are health, morality and violence.



Abrahamic religions are monotheistic religions which believe they descend from Abraham.


Judaism is the oldest Abrahamic religion, originating in the people of ancient Israel and Judea. The Torah is its foundational text, and is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. It is supplemented by oral tradition, set down in written form in later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. Judaism includes a wide corpus of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. Within Judaism there are a variety of movements, most of which emerged from Rabbinic Judaism, which holds that God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah; historically, this assertion was challenged by various groups. The Jewish people were scattered after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Today there are about 13 million Jews, about 40 per cent living in Israel and 40 per cent in the United States. The largest Jewish religious movements are Orthodox Judaism (Haredi Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism), Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism.

Jesus is the central figure of Christianity

Christianity is based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (1st century) as presented in the New Testament. The Christian faith is essentially faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and as Savior and Lord. Almost all Christians believe in the Trinity, which teaches the unity of FatherSon (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead. Most Christians can describe their faith with the Nicene Creed. As the religion of Byzantine Empire in the first millennium and of Western Europe during the time of colonization, Christianity has been propagated throughout the world. The main divisions of Christianity are, according to the number of adherents:

There are also smaller groups, including:


Islam is based on the Quran, one of the holy books considered by Muslims to be revealed by God, and on the teachings (hadith) of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a major political and religious figure of the 7th century CE. Islam is the most widely practiced religion of Southeast AsiaNorth AfricaWestern Asia, and Central Asia, while Muslim-majority countries also exist in parts of South AsiaSub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Europe. There are also several Islamic republics, including IranPakistanMauritania, and Afghanistan.

  • Sunni Islam is the largest denomination within Islam and follows the Quran, the hadiths which record the sunnah, whilst placing emphasis on the sahabah.
  • Shia Islam is the second largest denomination of Islam and its adherents believe that Ali succeeded Muhammad and further places emphasis on Muhammad’s family.
  • Ahmadiyya adherents believe that the awaited Imam Mahdi and the Promised Messiah has arrived, believed to be Mirza Ghulam Ahmad by Ahmadis.
  • There are also Muslim revivalist movements such as Muwahhidism and Salafism.

Other denominations of Islam include Nation of IslamIbadiSufismQuranismMahdavia, and non-denominational MuslimsWahhabism is the dominant Muslim schools of thought in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Secularism and atheism

Main articles: SecularismSecularization and Irreligion

As religion became a more personal matter in Western culture, discussions of society became more focused on political and scientific meaning, and religious attitudes (dominantly Christian) were increasingly seen as irrelevant for the needs of the European world. On the political side, Ludwig Feuerbach recast Christian beliefs in light of humanism, paving the way for Karl Marx‘s famous characterization of religion as “the opium of the people“. Meanwhile, in the scientific community, T.H. Huxley in 1869 coined the term “agnostic,” a term—subsequently adopted by such figures as Robert Ingersoll—that, while directly conflicting with and novel to Christian tradition, is accepted and even embraced in some other religions. Later, Bertrand Russell told the world Why I Am Not a Christian, which influenced several later authors to discuss their breakaway from their own religious upbringings from Islam to Hinduism.


Main articles: AtheismAgnosticismAntireligion and Humanism
See also: Criticism of Atheism

The terms “atheist” (lack of belief in any gods) and “agnostic” (belief in the unknowability of the existence of gods), though specifically contrary to theistic (e.g. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) religious teachings, do not by definition mean the opposite of “religious”. There are religions (including Buddhism and Taoism), in fact, that classify some of their followers as agnostic, atheistic, or nontheistic. The true opposite of “religious” is the word “irreligious”. Irreligion describes an absence of any religion; antireligion describes an active opposition or aversion toward religions in general.

Some atheists also construct parody religions, for example, the Church of the SubGenius or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which parodies the equal time argument employed by intelligent design Creationism. Parody religions may also be considered a post-modern approach to religion. For instance, in Discordianism, it may be hard to tell if even these “serious” followers are not just taking part in an even bigger joke. This joke, in turn, may be part of a greater path to enlightenment, and so on ad infinitum.

A study by Lynn et al. showed “a negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief in the United States and Europe,” and a “negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief […] between nations.” According to Lynn et al., intelligent people are less religious; intelligence elites, such as scientists, are less religious than the average population; children become less religious when they grow older and their cognitive skills get better; and religious beliefs have declined in the twentieths century, with the increase of the average intelligence. According to Lynn et al., countries with a higher average intelligence have a higher amount people who disbelief in God. Possible explanations, suggested by Lynn et al., are that intelligent people tend to rely on naturalistic explanations, and tend to question religious dogmas. Another explanation is that developed countries have more control over nature, and therefore tend to rely less on supernatural agency. Cuba and Vietnam, (former) communist countries, are anomalies, having a lower average intelligence but a high number of disbelievers, which may be attributed to the communist anti-religious stance. The United States are also an anomaly, with a higher average intelligence but a low nuber of disbelievers.

However, the Lynn et al study has been questioned by Professor Gordon Lynch, director of the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society from London’s Birkbeck College, since the study failed to take into account a complex range of social, economic and historical factors, each of which has been shown to interact with religion and IQ in different ways. Artificial Intelligence researcher Randy Olson has noted that the correlation between national religiosity and intelligence is weak. However, the correlation between wealth and intelligence is stronger and more suited. He notes that many of the countries with lower intelligence scores are less developed and that countries with 20% atheists or more flat line rather than increase in intelligence since they are developed countries either way.

Criticism of religion
Main article: Criticism of religion


Religious criticism has a long history, going back at least as far as the 5th century BCE. During classical times, there were religious critics in ancient Greece, such as Diagoras “the atheist” of Melos, and in the 1st century BCE in Rome, with Titus Lucretius Carus‘s De Rerum Natura.

During the Middle Ages and continuing into the Renaissance, potential critics of religion were persecuted and largely forced to remain silent. There were notable critics like Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for disagreeing with religious authority.

In the 17th and 18th century with the Enlightenment, thinkers like David Hume and Voltaire criticized religion.

In the 19th century, Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution led to increased skepticism about religion. Thomas HuxleyJeremy BenthamKarl MarxCharles BradlaughRobert Ingersol, and Mark Twain were noted 19th-century and early-20th-century critics. In the 20th century, Bertrand RussellSiegmund Freud, and others continued religious criticism.

Sam HarrisDaniel DennettRichard DawkinsVictor J. Stenger, and the late Christopher Hitchens were active critics during the late 20th century and early 21st century.

Critics consider religion to be outdated, harmful to the individual (e.g. brainwashing of children, faith healingfemale genital mutilationcircumcision), harmful to society (e.g. holy warsterrorism, wasteful distribution of resources), to impede the progress of science, to exert social control, and to encourage immoral acts (e.g. blood sacrificediscrimination against homosexuals and women, and certain forms of sexual violence such as marital rape). A major criticism of many religions is that they require beliefs that are irrational, unscientific, or unreasonable, because religious beliefs and traditions lack scientific or rational foundations.

Some modern-day critics, such as Bryan Caplan, hold that religion lacks utility in human society; they may regard religion as irrational. Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi has spoken out against undemocratic Islamic countries justifying “oppressive acts” in the name of Islam.


Main article: Religious violence

See also: Christianity and violenceJudaism and violence and Islam and violence

Critics like Hector Avalos Regina SchwartzChristopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have argued that religions are inherently violent and harm to society by using violence to promote their goals, in ways that are endorsed and exploited by their leaders.

Byron Bland asserts that one of the most prominent reasons for the “rise of the secular in Western thought” was the reaction against the religious violence of the 16th and 17th centuries. He asserts that the secular was a way of living with the religious differences that had produced so much horror. Under secularity, political entities have a warrant to make decisions independent from the need to enforce particular versions of religious orthodoxy. Indeed, they may run counter to certain strongly held beliefs if made in the interest of common welfare. Thus, one of the important goals of the secular is to limit violence.

Anthropologist Jack David Eller asserts that religion is not inherently violent, arguing “religion and violence are clearly compatible, but they are not identical.” He asserts that “violence is neither essential to nor exclusive to religion” and that ” virtually every form of religious violence has its nonreligious corollary.”