Religion provides people with a sense of meaning, purpose, and hope. It also reinforces social unity and stability. It serves as an agent of social control, promotes psychological and physical well-being, and may motivate people to work for positive social change.
Religion often deals with the supernatural or spiritual, about forces and powers beyond human control. It includes beliefs in gods and goddesses, magic, ancestor worship, trancelike states, rituals, and other symbolic interactionist approaches.
Early forms of religion developed from humans’ attempts to control their environment. These attempts to control the natural world came about through two different means: through manipulation, such as drawing pictures of animals on cave walls in hopes of success in hunting, and through supplication, such as prayers to a god or other spirit.
The earliest forms of religion were polytheistic, which meant that they recognized many gods and goddesses. These deities included the sun, moon, and stars; seasons, rivers, fertility, and other natural forces; guardian and protective gods, such as fire; and animal totems or objects that unified clans or tribes.
Some of these gods were also able to look into the future and cure illness with magic. As time went on, myths, or legendary stories about the creation of the world, the gods, and the ancestors became essential to religion.
In the twenty-first century, religion continues to be an integral part of the human experience. However, some scholars have criticized the role of religion in society and argue that it has led to social conflict and inequality.