Europe's main religions (Abrahamic): CHRISTIANITY, JUDAISM, MOHAMMEDAN.

Religion is the adherence to codified beliefs and rituals that generally involve a faith in a spiritual nature and a study of inherited ancestral traditions, knowledge and wisdom related to understanding human life. The term "religion" refers to both the personal practices related to faith as well as to the larger shared systems of belief. In the larger sense, religion is a communal system for the coherence of belief—typically focused on a system of thought, unseen being, person, or object, that is considered to be supernatural, sacred, divine, or of the highest truth. Moral codes, practices, values, institutions, traditions, and rituals are often traditionally associated with the core belief, and these may have some overlap with concepts in secular philosophy.

Religion can also be described as a way of life.

The development of religion has taken many forms in various cultures. "Organized religion" generally refers to an organization of people supporting the exercise of some religion with a prescribed set of beliefs, often taking the form of a legal entity (see religion-supporting organization). Other religions believe in personal revelation and responsibility. "Religion" is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system," but is more socially defined than that of personal convictions. Religion is widely viewed as a scam because the existance of deities was not yet proven.

Bible text or Constitution? "God's law is of a very different order than our Constitution. God's law calls us as an individual, but can never be taken over as law within a state. The Constitution is given to protect the individual against the government, so that the individual can make a free choice. A choice to live according to God's law or not."

God the Father: Fiat (Franciscans' church 1255 Cracow Poland)
Established in the beginning of the 1990s by EU Commission President Jacques Delors the dialogue with churches and non-confessional organisations offers an opportunity to engage in the European policy making process. It allows for an open exchange of views between EU institutions and important parts of European society on pertinent and topical EU policies. The Lisbon Treaty (Article 17 TFEU) has lifted the dialogue from good practice to a legal obligation, enshrined in primary law. The Treaty of Lisbon explicitly introduces the idea of a dialogue between European institutions and churches, religious associations or communities as well as philosophical and non-confessional organisations (Article 17 TFEU):

1. "The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.

2. The Union equally respects the status under national law of philosophical and non-confessional organisations.

3. Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations."

Definition of religion, development of religion (social construction, progressing toward higher, objective truth, and absolutely true) | Religions for peace | demographics | adherents | related forms of thought | religion - metaphysics - and cosmology | etymology | criticism


Pope Francis has called for an end to violence and extremism, on the first ever papal visit to Iraq









The event that spawned the idea of creating the Foundation “Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice” was the publication of Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical “Centesimus Annus” on May 1st, 1991, the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical “Rerum Novarum”. One hundred years later, the Holy Father felt the need to give voice to his own thoughts on social issues and articulate his vision, which places the human being at the center of all economic activities.

A meditated reading of “Centesimus Annus” prompted some enlightened people to action, urging qualified Catholic business and financial leaders to join forces, help diffuse the basic principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church expounded in the Encyclical and at the same time look for new sources of funding for the activities of the Holy See, which must respond to the ever increasing needs of the whole Church, or rather of the whole mankind.

May 2018, the Fondazione organized the conference 'NEW POLICIES AND LIFE-STYLES IN THE DIGITAL AGE'. The event will focussed on three themes, namely:
  1. ‘The family facing job uncertainties and the digital cultural revolution’,
  2. ‘Towards a sustainable food chain: responsibility against the ‘throwaway culture’, and
  3. ‘Human Work, Inclusive Employment’.

The conference ended in the Vatican with an address by His All Holiness Bartholomew, Patriarch of Constantinople, who speeched on ‘A Common Christian Agenda for the Common Good’, followed by a private audience with Pope Francis.

In presenting the initiative, Mgr Diarmuid Martin, archbishop of Dublin, noted that “The challenge of generating and sustaining growth with equity is not just a challenge for the moralist. It is the task of economists and policy makers to develop and test new models of economic growth that will generate equity.” He went on to say that “Another striking characteristic of our current model is the level of corruption that can permeate economic activity worldwide. The fight against corruption requires moral condemnation and legal measures to repress those responsible. Economists could also propose models of transparency that would reduce the opportunities for corruption. The poor pay the cost of corruption.” For his part, Domingo Sugranyes Bickel, who chairs the Foundation’s Board of Directors, said that "like at the time of Rerum Novarum, we will try to identify 'elements of novelty' in order to rethink the socio-economic priorities we face today."

The list of speakers included members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Vatican Foundation Gravissimum Educationis, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the European Trade Union Confederation, and a number of economists, academics and business leaders.

The IERS baseline study of religious education (RE) in the five partner countries, i.e. Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, maps and analyses how religion and teaching religion is played out in official curricula for RE or in other school subjects, primarily in upper-secondary school. In addition, the baseline study also highlights the most recent and important supranational European recommendations for the implementation in the nation states of Europe of a kind of RE that may contribute to intercultural understanding, tolerance and a constructive handling of religious and cultural diversity and conflict.

Bishop Robert Barron is author of 11 books, host of television and radio programs, and the award winning series, Catholicism. He is also the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and is the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He was one of the keynote speakers at our Fourteenth Annual Conference of Business & Ethics. The Catholic Church’s social teachings about capitalism were the topic of Bishop Barron’s keynote address.

“Every single pope in the church has affirmed the most central element of the market economy: private property,” he said. “Private property is grounded in the dignity and freedom of the individual. Private property allows the diffusion of power, not concentration in the hands of a few. The Church likes the entrepreneurial spirit.” Yet the popes have noted that because God made the world for everyone, the common good must be uppermost in the minds of capitalist Christians.



There are many definitions of religion, and most have struggled to avoid an overly sharp definition on the one hand, and meaningless generalities on the other. Some have tried to use formalistic, doctrinal definitions and others have tried to use experiential, emotive, intuitive, valuational and ethical factors.

Sociologists and anthropologists see religion as an abstract set of ideas, values, or experiences developed as part of a cultural matrix. Primitive religion was indistinguishable from the sociocultural acts where custom and ritual defined an emotional reality. Other religious scholars have put forward a definition of religion that avoids the reductionism of the various sociological and psychological disciplines that relegate religion to its component factors. Religion may be defined as the presence of a belief in the sacred or the holy. For example Rudolf Otto's "The Idea of the Holy," formulated in 1917, defines the essence of religious awareness as awe, a unique blend of fear and fascination before the divine. Friedrich Schleiermacher in the late 18th century defined religion as a "feeling of absolute dependence."

The Encyclopedia of Religion describes religion in the following way:

"In summary, it may be said that almost every known culture involves the religious in the above sense of a depth dimension in cultural experiences at all levels — a push, whether ill-defined or conscious, toward some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life. When more or less distinct patterns of behaviour are built around this depth dimension in a culture, this structure constitutes religion in its historically recognizable form. Religion is the organization of life around the depth dimensions of experience — varied in form, completeness, and clarity in accordance with the environing culture."

During one of the conversations with M. O'C. Drury about prayers, liturgies and ministry and their ability to carry on a Christian tradition Ludwig Wittgenstein stated:

'For all you and I can tell, the religion of the future will be without any priests or ministers ...we have to live without the consolation of belonging to a Church ...Of one thing I am certain. The religion of the future will have to be extremely ascetic; and by this I don't mean just going without food and drink.' (Drury, M.O'C., 'Conversations with Wittgenstein' in RW, 114).

This comment Wittgenstein probably made in 1930 while lecturing in Cambridge, whose comfort filled him with restlessness and strengthened a desire to escape from the form of life Western civilisation offered to the middle class. Organized religion in this period was seen as a part of such a comfortable life that in Wittgenstein's eyes had nothing to do with the living God and ‘the consolation of belonging to a Church' prevented one from being religious.Wittgenstein was convinced that such mechanic understanding of religion had no future and instead emphasized: 'Make sure that your religion is a matter between you and God only.


There are a number of models regarding the ways in which religions come into being and develop. The models are not mutually exclusive. Multiple models may be seen to apply simultaneously, or different models may be seen as applying to different religions. Broadly speaking, these models fall into:

  • models which see religions as social constructions,
  • models which see religions as progressing toward higher, objective truth and
  • models which see a particular religion as absolutely true.


Religion as a social construction
Jerusalem is an ancient and sacred city of key importance to three major religions:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Pictured is the Dome of the rock. It is a constituent of the Mosque, 'Masjid-ul-Aqsa'
This group of models holds that religion is a social construction, rather than referring to actual supernatural phenomena; that is, phenomena beyond the natural world that we measure using the scientific method. Some of these models view religion as nonetheless having or having had a positive effect on society, the individual, and civilization itself, and others view it as having or having had a mostly injurious or destructive effect.

Many of these views have their origins in the field of the sociology of religion. Models that view religion as a social construction include the "Dogma Selection Model," which holds that religions, although untrue in themselves, encode instructions or habits useful for survival, and that these ideas "mutate" periodically as they are passed on, and spread or die out in accord with their effectiveness at improving chances for survival.

Karl Marx wrote (1844) that "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness." Bertrand Russell commented, "[r]eligion in any shape or form is regarded as a pernicious and deliberate falsehood, spread and encouraged by rulers and clerics in their own interests, since it is easier to exercise control over the ignorant."

The "Theory of Religion Model" states that religion arose from some psychological or moral pathology in religious leaders and believers. Another theory states that spirit-based religions found in many indigenous tribes may originate in dreams. A dead person seen in a dream is, in some sense, not really dead, and so may be able to do good or harm. Some anthropologists see in this the origin of a belief in ghosts and in those religions in which ancestors are worshiped.

Religions as progressively true

In contrast to the some other models, this category of models see religion as "progressively true." Within these models, religions reflect an essential Truth. The development of religion is therefore the course of religions aligning themselves more completely with the Truth, as the benefits of the teachings of each religion take effect within the development of humanity across time and place, as well as dealing with drifts of the religions from their founding principles or standing in need of elaborating the same essential truth in a new specific way - but all in relation to the same mysterious God, that is that this progression is divinely based or directed, rather than simply the occurrence of good people in history.

Models which view religion as progressively true include the Bahá'í model of prophetic revelation, which holds that God has sent a series of prophets to Earth, each of which brought teachings appropriate for his culture and context, but all originating from the same God, and therefore teaching the same essential message. While religious truth is seen as being relative due to its varied cultural and developmental expression, this model accepts that the underlying essential truth being expressed is absolutely true, if incompletely and progressively presented. The A Study of History Model holds that prophets are given to extraordinary spiritual insight during periods of social decay and act as "surveyors of the course of secular civilization who report breaks in the road and breakdowns in the traffic, and plot a new spiritual course which will avoid those pitfalls."

Another model, the Great Awakening Model, states that religion proceeds along a Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, synthesis, in cycles of approximately 80 years as a result of the interaction between four archetypal generations, by which old religious beliefs (the thesis) face new challenges for which they are unprepared (the antithesis) and adapt to create new and more sophisticated beliefs (the synthesis).

To a lesser degree this "progression in religion" is true within most of the religions - Judaism accepts a series of Prophets progressively leading the Jews, from Abraham to Moses, and further to Malachi. Christianity accepts the same and adds Jesus. Islam accepts those of Judaism and Christianity and adds Muhammad. The Bahá'í Faith accepts all of the same, but adds the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh as modern Prophets, at the same time acknowledging the divine origin of Krishna, Buddha, and Zoroaster. Hinduism identifies a series of Avatars from Brahma through to Krishna. Buddhism adds to the list of Avatars, calling them Buddhas. Zoroastrianism also delineates earlier Saoshyants, who came progressively leading the people forward. There are other examples.

Religions as absolutely true

Other models see religion as absolutely and unchangingly true. They contrast with both the first group of models (which hold religion to be false), and the second group (which hold religion to develop over time). Models which view a particular religion as absolutely true include the Jewish and Christian model which holds that God relates to humanity through covenants; that he established a covenant with all humanity at the time of Noah called the Noahide Laws, and that he established a covenant with Israel through the Ten Commandments, and also Jesus Christ did establish a covenant with his people through the New Testament.

The Ayyavazhi Model states that "All religions had their own truth on their own point and the one and same God himself incarnates in different parts and by destroying the evil forces, saved the people and there by formed different scriptures..." This model, however, asserts that the scripture of Ayyavazhi, known as Akilattirattu Ammanai, is currently the only living scripture and all others are dead. Exclusivist Models hold that one particular set of religious doctrines is the "One True Religion," and all others are false, so that the development of the True Religion is tied inexorably to one prophet or holy book. In this model, all other religions are seen as either distortions of the original truth or original fabrications resulting from either human ignorance or imagination, or a more devious influence, such as false prophets or the influence of another rival supernatural entity (such as Satan). The model of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is nuanced differently than either the progressively true model or the absolutely true model, in that its leaders have taught that foreordination included plans by God that prophets as well as other good men and women (for example, Muhammad, Confucius, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, and Gandhi) would be inspired by God during the course of human history who would bring much light, truth and knowledge though not necessarily a fullness of truth to their particular societies.


There is no consensus among researchers as to the best methodology for determining the religiosity profile of the world's population. A number of fundamental aspects are unresolved:

- Whether to count "historically predominant religious culture[s]";
- Whether to count only those who actively "practice" a particular religion;
- Whether to count based on a concept of "adherence";
- Whether to count only those who expressly self-identify with a particular denomination;
- Whether to count only adults, or to include children as well;
- Whether to rely only on official government-provided statistics;
- Whether to use multiple sources and ranges or single "best source(s)"


Present day adherents

The following statistics show the number of adherents in all known approaches, both religious and irreligious worldwide. [Note: these statistics are taken from a single site, which also states that its total for Christianity is provided by a single source, David Barrett, described as an "Evangelical Christian", and elsewhere listed as "Research Professor of Missiometrics at Regent University". The term "adherents" is moreover not defined in this context and is not universally accepted as the most appropriate basis for ranking religions by size. For example:

Many Muslims (and some non-Muslim) observers claim that there are more practicing Muslims than practicing Christians in the world. has no reason to dispute this. It seems likely, but we would point out that there are different opinions on the matter, and a Muslim may define "practicing" differently than a Christian....

Prevailing world religions
Other sources quoted in this article put the percentages of various countries' populations who rank Religion (any denomination) as "Very Important" at small fractions of those used to compile the table below]. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Chinese folk religion and Buddhism are the largest world religions today. Approximately 69-78% of humanity adheres to one of these five religions.

Christianity is the religion with the largest number of adherents, followed by Islam, Hinduism, Chinese folk religion and Buddhism respectively. However, the third-largest "group" of approximately 1 billion people do not adhere to religious approaches. Their irreligious approaches include Humanism, Atheism, Rationalism, and Agnosticism. These figures are necessarily approximate: note that the figures in the following table total nearly 7 billion people, yet the world population was only 6.4 billion (2005), and a person can be an adherent of more than one religion.

Christianity encompasses many different denominations but the statistics in the source for this document consider most of them all together for the purposes of analysis (except Unitarians and Rastafarians). The detailed country-by-country figures given by the primary source for this section sum to a range lower than the 2.1 Billion total cited in the summary "Major Religions of the World" list (itself derived from the World Christian Encyclopedia).

  • The high end estimate for Islam from the source for the table above is 1.4 billion:

Islam: Contemporary figures for Islam are usually between 900 million and 1.4 billion, with 1 billion being a figure frequently given in comparative religion texts, probably because it's such a nice, round number.

  • The high end estimate for Hinduism from the source for the table above is 1.4 billion:

Hinduism: The highest figure we've seen for Hinduism (1.4 billion, Clarke, Peter B., editor), The Religions of the World: Understanding the Living Faiths, Marshall Editions Limited: USA (1993); pg. 125.) is actually higher than the highest figure we've seen for Islam. But this is an aberration. World Hinduism adherent figures are usually between 850 million and one billion.

  • Shinto is a special case due to shrine-reporting versus self-reporting. Since the 17th century, there have been laws in Japan requiring registration with Shinto shrines. Because of this, 75-90% of all Japanese are listed on shrine rolls, greatly inflating the apparent number of adherents. When asked in polls, only about 3.3% of Japanese people identify themselves as "Shinto." However, many who do not consider themselves "Shintoists" still practice Shinto rituals.

In ranking religious denominations, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest single denomination within Christianity, Sunni Islam within Islam, and Vaishnavism within Hinduism. It is difficult to say whether there are more Roman Catholics or Sunnis, as the numbers are roughly equal, and exact counts are impossible, because some members though legally accepted in those denominations may have renounced their faith or have converted quickly.

Trends in adherence

Since the late 19th century, the demographics of religion have changed a great deal. Some countries with a historically large Christian population have experienced a significant decline in the numbers of professed active Christians. Symptoms of the decline in active participation in Christian religious life include declining recruitment for the priesthood and monastic life, as well as diminishing attendance at church.

At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of people who identify themselves as secular humanists. In many countries, such as the People's Republic of China, communist governments have discouraged religion, making it difficult to count the actual number of believers. However, after the collapse of communism in numerous countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Eastern Orthodox Christianity has been experiencing considerable resurgence there.

Within the world's four largest religions Christianity currently has the greatest growth by numbers and Islam has the fastest growth by percentage. Christianity is spreading rapidly in northern Africa and the Far East, in particular China and South Korea. Hinduism is undergoing a revival, and many temples are being built, both in India and in other countries. Analyzing percentage growth is a difficult matter However, the World Christian Encyclopedia and World Christian Trends reported these numbers from growth from 1990-2000: 2.65% - Zoroastrianism, 2.28% - Bahá'í Faith, 2.13% - Islam, 1.87% - Sikhism, 1.69% - Hinduism, 1.36% - Christianity, 1.09% - Buddhism (the annual growth in the world population over the same period is 1.41%). A 2002 Pew Research Center study found that, generally, poorer nations had a larger proportion of citizens who found religion to be very important than richer nations, with the exception of the United States.


Religion and science

Religious knowledge, according to religious practitioners, may be gained from religious leaders, sacred texts (scriptures), and/or personal revelation. Some religions view such knowledge as unlimited in scope and suitable to answer any question; others see religious knowledge as playing a more restricted role, often as a complement to knowledge gained through physical observation. Some religious people maintain that religious knowledge obtained in this way is absolute and infallible (religious cosmology). While almost unlimited, this knowledge can be unreliable, since the particulars of religious knowledge vary from religion to religion, from sect to sect, and often from individual to individual.

The scientific method gains knowledge by testing hypotheses to develop theories through elucidation of facts or evalution by experiments and thus only answers cosmological questions about the physical universe. It develops theories of the world which best fit physically observed evidence. All scientific knowledge is probabilistic and subject to later improvement or revision in the face of better evidence. Scientific theories that have an overwhelming preponderance of favorable evidence are often treated as facts (such as the theory of gravity).

Many early scientists held strong religious beliefs (see Scientists of Faith and List of Christian thinkers in science) and strove to reconcile science and religion. Isaac Newton, for example, believed that gravity caused the planets to revolve about the Sun, and credited God with the design. In the concluding General Scholium to the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, he wrote: "This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being." Nevertheless, conflict arose between religious organizations and individuals who propagated scientific theories which were deemed unacceptable by the organizations. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has historically reserved to itself the right to decide which scientific theories are acceptable and which are unacceptable. In the 17th century, Galileo was tried and forced to recant the heliocentric theory.

Many theories exist as to why religions sometimes seem to conflict with scientific knowledge. In the case of Christianity, a relevant factor may be that it was among Christians that science in the modern sense was developed. Unlike other religious groups, as early as the 17th century the Christian churches had to deal directly with this new way to investigate nature and seek truth. The perceived conflict between science and Christianity may also be partially explained by a literal interpretation of the Bible adhered to by many Christians, both currently and historically. This way to read the sacred texts became especially prevalent after the rise of the Protestant reformation, with its emphasis on the Bible as the only authoritative source concerning the ultimate reality. This view is often shunned by both religious leaders (who regard literally believing it as petty and look for greater meaning instead) and scientists who regard it as an impossibility.

Some Christians have disagreed or are still disagreeing with scientists in areas such as the validity of Keplerian astronomy, the theory of evolution, the method of creation of the universe and the Earth, and the origins of life. On the other hand, scholars such as Stanley Jaki have suggested that Christianity and its particular worldview was a crucial factor for the emergence of modern science. In fact, most today's historians are moving away from the view of the relationship between Christianity and science as one of "conflict", a perspective commonly called the conflict thesis (or the Draper-White thesis). Gary Ferngren in his historical volume about Science & Religion states:

While some historians had always regarded the Draper-White thesis as oversimplifying and distorting a complex relationship, in the late twentieth century it underwent a more systematic reevaluation. The result is the growing recognition among historians of science that the relationship of religion and science has been much more positive than is sometimes thought. Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule.

In the Bahá'í Faith, the harmony of science and religion is a central tenet. The principle states that that truth is one, and therefore true science and true religion must be in harmony, thus rejecting the view that science and religion are in conflict.
Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, asserted that science and religion cannot be opposed because they are aspects of the same truth; he also affirmed that reasoning powers are required to understand the truths of religion and that religious teachings which are at variance with science should not be accepted; he explained that religion has to be reasonable since God endowed humankind with reason so that they can discover truth. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, described science and religion as "the two most potent forces in human life."

Proponents of Hinduism claim that Hinduism is not afraid of scientific explorations, nor of the technological progress of mankind. According to them, there is a comprehensive scope and opportunity for Hinduism to mold itself according to the demands and aspirations of the modern world; it has the ability to align itself with both science and spiritualism. This religion uses some modern examples to explain its ancient theories and reinforce its own beliefs. For example, some Hindu thinkers have used the terminology of quantum physics to explain some basic concepts of Hinduism such as Maya or the illusory and impermanent nature of our existence.

The philosophical approach known as pragmatism, as propounded by the American philosopher William James, has been used to reconcile scientific with religious knowledge. Pragmatism, simplistically, holds that the truth of a set of beliefs can be indicated by its usefulness in helping people cope with a particular context of life. Thus, the fact that scientific beliefs are useful in predicting observations in the physical world can indicate a certain truth for scientific theories; the fact that religious beliefs can be useful in helping people cope with difficult emotions or moral decisions can indicate a certain truth for those beliefs. (For a similar postmodern view, see grand narrative).


Religion and philosophy meet in several areas, notably in the study of metaphysics and cosmology. In particular, a distinct set of religious beliefs will often entail a specific metaphysics and cosmology. That is, a religion will generally have answers to metaphysical and cosmological questions about the nature of being, of the universe, humanity, and the divine.

Mysticism and esotericism

Mysticism, in contrast with philosophy and metaphysics, denies that logic is the most important method of gaining enlightenment. Rather, physical disciplines such as yoga, stringent fasting, whirling (in the case of the Sufi dervishes), or the use of Psychoactive drugs such as LSD, lead to higher states of consciousness that logic can never hope to grasp.

Mysticism ("to conceal") is the pursuit of communion with, or conscious awareness of ultimate reality, the divine, spiritual truth, or God through direct, personal experience (intuition or insight) rather than rational thought. Mystics speak of the existence of realities behind external perception or intellectual apprehension that are central to being and directly accessible through personal experience. They say that such experience is a genuine and important source of knowledge.

Esotericism claims to be more sophisticated than religion, to rely on intellectual understanding rather than faith, and to improve on philosophy in its emphasis on techniques of psycho-spiritual transformation (esoteric cosmology). Esotericism refers to "hidden" knowledge available only to the advanced, privileged, or initiated, as opposed to exoteric knowledge, which is public. It applies especially to spiritual practices. The mystery religions of ancient Greece are examples of Esotericism


Members of an organized religion may not see any significant difference between religion and spirituality. Or they may see a distinction between the mundane, earthly aspects of their religion and its spiritual dimension.

Some individuals draw a strong distinction between religion and spirituality. They may see spirituality as a belief in ideas of religious significance (such as God, the Soul, or Heaven), but not feel bound to the bureaucratic structure and creeds of a particular organized religion. They choose the term spirituality rather than religion to describe their form of belief, perhaps reflecting a disillusionment with organized religion (see Religion in modernity), and a movement towards a more "modern" — more tolerant, and more intuitive — form of religion. These individuals may reject organized religion because of historical acts by religious organizations, such as Islamic terrorism, the marginalisation and persecution of various minorities or the Spanish Inquisition.


The word myth has several meanings.

  1. A traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon;

  2. A person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence.

  3. A metaphor for the spiritual potentiality in the human being

Ancient polytheistic religions, such as those of Greece, Rome, and Scandinavia, are categorized under the heading of mythology. Religions of pre-industrial peoples, or cultures in development, are similarly called myths in the anthropology of religion. The term "myth" can be used pejoratively by both religious and non-religious people. But by defining another person's religious stories and beliefs as mythology, one implies that they are less real or true than one's own religious stories and beliefs. Joseph Campbell often made the statement "Mythology is popularly defined as 'other peoples' religions'...but actually religion is misinterpreted mythology".

Humanists believe that all religion is based on myth. The term myth in sociology, however, has a non-pejorative meaning. There, myth is defined as stories that are important for the group whether or not it is objectively or provably true. Examples include the death and resurrection of Jesus, which, to Christians, explains the means by which they are freed from sin, as well as being ostensibly a historical event. But from a mythological outlook, whether or not a death and resurrection actually occurred or not is unimportant. Instead, the symbolism of a death to an old "life" and the start of a new "life" is more important than the religious dogma of the actual historical authenticity.


Humans have many different methods which attempt to answer fundamental questions about the nature of the universe and our place in it (cosmology). What is reality? How can we know? Who are we? Why we are here? How should we live? What happens after we die? Religion is only one of the methods for trying to answer one or more of these questions. Other methods include science, philosophy, metaphysics, astrology, esotericism, mysticism, and forms of shamanism, such as the sacred consumption of ayahuasca among Peruvian Amazonia's Urarina. The Urarina have an elaborate animistic cosmological system, which informs their mythology, religious orientation and daily existence.

Given the generalized discontents with modernity, consumerism, over-consumption, violence and anomie, many people in the so-called industrial or post-industrial West rely on a number of distinctive religious worldviews. This in turn has given rise to increased religious pluralism, as well as to what are commonly known in the academic literature as new religious movements, which are gaining ground across the globe.


The etymology of the word "religion" has been debated for centuries. The English word clearly derives from the Latin religio, "reverence (for the gods)" or "conscientiousness". The origins of religio, however, are obscure. Proposed etymological interpretations include:

From Relego

  • Re-reading–from Latin re (again) + lego (in the sense of "read"), referring to the repetition of scripture.

  • Treating carefully–from Latin re (again) + lego (in the sense of "choose"–this was the interpretation of Cicero) "go over again" or "consider carefully".

From Religare

  • Re-connection to the divine–from Latin re (again) + ligare (to connect, as in English ligament). This interpretation is favoured by modern scholars such as Tom Harpur, but was made prominent by St. Augustine, following the interpretation of Lactantius.

  • To bind or return to bondage–an alternate interpretation of the "reconnection" etymology emphasizing a sense of servitude to God, this may have originated with Augustine. However, the interpretation, while popular with critics of religion, is often considered imprecise and possibly offensive to followers.

From Res + legere

  • Concerning a gathering — from Latin res (ablative re, with regard to) + legere (to gather), since organized religion revolves around a gathering of people.


Most western criticism of religion focuses on the Abrahamic religions, particularly Christianity, Judaism, and Islam with titles such as Why I am not a Christian, The God Delusion and The End of Faith. Not all the criticisms would apply to all religions: criticism regarding the existence of god(s), for example, has very little relevance to Buddhism. Many skeptics consider that all religious faith is essentially irrational. By definition, skeptics of religion are atheists or agnostics. Critics claim dogmatic religions are typically morally deficient, elevating to moral status ancient, arbitrary, and ill-informed rules that may have been designed for reasons of hygiene, politics, or other reasons in a bygone era. People who break these rules are often condemned and victimised even though they have only done wrong within a particular religion's idiosyncratic conception of what constitutes right and wrong.