In general, the systems of thought, belief, and practice that emphasize gods or a supernatural world and which underlie the ethical mores of given, identified communities. Religion is a fundamental element of human experience, and features of religion, such as funeral rites, can be found even among the small bands of huntergatherers who wandered parts of the earth two or three hundred thousand years ago. Philosophers, scientists, and scholars, primarily in the West, have suggested a wide range of definitions for and explanations of religion. The British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, for example, claimed that Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness, while German economist and political thinker Karl Marx famously asserted that Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature it is the opi ate of the masses. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz saw religion as primarily a set of symbols that explained the world to people, while Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud wrote that religious beliefs correspond closely with the fantasies of infantile life. In a more abstract sense that does not easily lend itself to rational explanation, many scholars explain religion as the sense of something outside ordinary experience, of a divine presence known as the numinous, a term derived from the Latin word numen, or divine power. No definition of the features of religion is completely applicable to all of the established faiths, although a few generalizations are possible. Most religions have founders, and their development can be traced historically. They rest on a specified canon of texts. Beliefs and community mores are expressed in regular and welldefined rituals. They ultimately rest on faith rather than empirical and systematic proofs. Other systems of belief, such as humanism or even fascism or Marxism, have these features also (and might therefore be considered religions in some respects). But only religions emphasize the numinous. Hinduism does not have a founder, but offers many gods and many sacred texts. Buddhism preaches no supreme being or beings but offers believers the attainment of spiritual understandings well beyond established norms. Confucianism centers on a vision of an ideal society as well as reverence for a past and present which might include ancestral spirits. Daoism, like Buddhism, offers no gods but rather a richer spiritual life and has identifiable founders and canonical texts. Shinto’s origins and texts are vague, but it connects believers closely with the world of the spirits and with nature. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share all of these defining features. SEE ALSO: philosophy of religion; theismDon’t Believe The One World Religion Is Here? You Will After …

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