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What is Religion?

No simple definition can describe the numerous religions in the world. For many people, religion is an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, practices, and worship that center on supreme God, or the Deity. For many others, religion involves a number of gods, or deities. Some people have a religion in which no specific God or gods are worshiped. There are also people who practice their own religious beliefs in their own personal way, largely independent of organized religion. But almost all people who follow some of religion believe that a divine ([di'vain]) power created the world and influences their lives.

People practice religion for several reasons. Many people throughout the world follow a religion simple because it is part of the heritage of their culture, tribe, or family. Religion gives many people a feeling of security because they believe that a divine power watches over them. These people often ask the power for help or protection. Numerous people follow a religion because it promises them salvation and either happiness or the sense of individual fulfillment and gives meaning to life. In addition, religion provides s to such questions as “what is the purpose of life? What is the final destiny of a person? What is the difference between the right and wrong? And what are one’s obligations to other people?” Finally, many people follow a religion to enjoy a sense of kinship with their fellow believers.

There are thousands of religions in the world. The eight major ones are Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, and Taoism. Of these eight religions, Hinduism, Shinto, and Taoism developed over many countries. Each of the other religions traditionally bases its faith on the life or teachings of specific individuals. They are Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as Gautama Buddha, for Buddhism; Jesus Christ for Christianity; Confucius for Confucianism; Muhammad for Islam; and Abraham and Moses for Judaism.

The religions that trace their history to individuals follow a general pattern of development. During the individual’s lifetime or soon after his death, a distinctive system of worship ceremonies grew up around his life and teaching. This system, called a cult, became the basis of the religion. The heart of the cult is the individual’s teaching. In addition to inspiring worship, the individual represents an ideal way of life that followers try to imitate.

The teachings of religions have shaped the lives of people since prehistoric times. Judaism, Islam, and especially Christianity ([,kristi'æniti]) have been major influences in the formation of Western culture. These three faiths, particularly Islam, have also played a crucial role in the development of Middle Eastern culture. The cultures of Asia have been shaped by Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Shinto, and Taoism.

Religion has been a supreme source of inspiration in the arts. Some of the most beautiful buildings in the world are houses of worship. Much of the world’s greatest music is religious. Religious stories have provided countless subjects for painting, sculptures, literature, dances, and motion pictures.

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