Religion is a unified system of beliefs, feelings, and practices that provides people with an object (or objects) of devotion, someone or something sacred to believe in, and values to live by. It also involves a belief in the supernatural or spiritual, or in forces and powers that are beyond human control.
The earliest religious ideas are thought to have developed around 3,500 BCE along the Nile River in Egypt and in Mesopotamia, with more sophisticated religions developing later on in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Most of these early religious ideas included some form of a god or gods, as well as various spirits and deities. They also involved a number of rituals, myths, and rules for behavior.
Today, scholars use a variety of different approaches to study religion. Some are influenced by the philosophy of religion, which examines the nature of religious ideas, and some are guided by theology and the history of religion, which deal with the observable aspects of religion. There are also those who focus on the role that religion plays in society, and these tend to be more open to a comparison of religions.
However, there are many disagreements about what religion really is. For example, some theories of religion are based on the idea that it is simply a social construct, which is then used to organize societies and encourage ethical and moral behaviors. Others, like James G. Frazer’s definition, argue that religion is a belief in power higher than or equal to that of humans, and that it also includes an attempt to propitiate or please these powers. Other, more functional definitions, such as that of Emile Durkheim, consider the presence of practices to be enough to define religion.