Religion can give meaning and direction to a person’s life. But as the history of persecuting and killing people of different religions demonstrates, it can also promote social conflict. It can encourage individuals and groups to squabble and even go to war over religious differences. This is true of all religions, but some are particularly violent.
There are many ways to understand what religion is and why it is such a powerful force in human societies. Some scholars argue that it is a social kind, like a culture or an ethnic group. Others, such as psychologists and neuroscientists, claim that it is an emotional or psychological response to human needs, such as fear of death or a desire for a spiritual experience that cannot be provided by the material world. Durkheim used a functional definition of religion, based on its role in creating social solidarity, and Paul Tillich used an axiological approach, defining it as what provides orientation for people’s lives.
The vast majority of religions feature teachings about moral behavior and a code of conduct for members to follow in their everyday lives. They also include a belief in a supernatural power that can act on the physical and spiritual realms, as well as specific rituals and practices such as prayer, worship, contemplation, and participation in religious institutions. Ideally, these activities provide value to people and help them to become good members of society, as exemplified by the Ten Commandments or other laws meant to promote moral behavior.