|A belief system which dictates the cultural attitudes, behaviors and norms of a group|
Due to a lack of consensus about the definition of religion, the term can be difficult to define. The absense of a consensus means that people from different groups may have vastly different definitions of what a religion is. This article aims to provide a concise definition which is broad in scope for the sake of a clear and coherent description of religious phenomenon.
Religion can be loosely defined as any belief system which dictates cultural attitudes and behaviors for a particular group of people. Despite popular belief, religions aren't necessarily designed to be literally true but are created to influence the thoughts and behaviors of a particular group which affiliates with a given religion. Also contrary to popular belief, the inclusion of supernatural deities, including a monotheistic creator deity (God), is not necessary for the functioning of a religion.
All religions have a mythology (aka theology) and rituals associated with them. People who perscribe to a religion typically engage with its mythology and rituals in some capacity.
Mythology (aka theology)
Mythology is a fundamental component of religion. A mythology constitutes of stories or narratives which explore supernatural/unexplained phenomenon or notable historical or cultural events. Mythologies may be entirely fictional or entirely non-fictional. Alternatively, mythology can also be a mixture of fictional and non-fictional elements. As a fundamental compenent of a religion, the mythology has several functions. These functions of myths, as defined by Joseph Campbell in The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, are listed below.
The Metaphysical Function
Mythology encodes into symbols and language that which is difficult or impossible to define using symbols or language.
The Cosmological Function
Mythology can serve as a protoscience for explaining unexplained or unexplainable phenomenon.
The Sociological Function
Ancient societies had to conform to an existing social order if they were to survive at all. This is because they evolved under "pressure" from necessities much more intense than the ones encountered in our modern world. Mythology confirmed that order and enforced it by reflecting it into the stories themselves, often describing how the order arrived from divine intervention.
The Pedagogical Function
Mythology can also serve as a guide through various stages of life.
Besides a mythology, the other significant component of a religion is its rituals. The word ritual is very broad in scope and includes non religious phenomenon as well (shaking hands or saying "hello" are two examples of non-religious rituals). Campbell argues that engaging in a religious ritual requires a deliberate or involuntary suspension of disbelief, like watching a movie.
Innate response mechanism
In The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, Campbell argues that certain symbols and imagery inherently provoke a religious response among adherents. Cambell argues that this kind of an inherent, innate response has a biological basis and is a driving factor behind religious rituals.
Joseph Campbell's Masks of God book series