Many religions have narratives
and sacred histories
that are intended to give meaning to life
or to explain the origin of life
or the universe. They tend to derive morality
, religious laws
, or a preferred lifestyle
from their ideas about the cosmos
and human nature
. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions, churches, denominations, religious bodies, faith groups, tribes
, movements, ultimate concerns, which at some point in the future will be countless.
The word religion
is sometimes used interchangeably with the words "faith
" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviours
, including clerical hierarchies
, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations
, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration
of a deity
or for prayer
, holy places
(either natural or architectural) or religious texts
. Certain religions also have a sacred language
often used in liturgical
services. The practice of a religion may also include sermons
, commemoration of the activities of a God
or gods, sacrifices
, public service
or other aspects of human culture. Religious beliefs have also been used to explain parapsychologicalphenomena
such as out-of-body experiences
, near-death experiences
, along with many other paranormal
Some academics studying the subject
have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions
, a term which refers to transcultural
, international faiths; indigenous religions
, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements
, which refers to recently developed faiths.
One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism
, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual
practice and worship
follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions
as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings,
and thus believes that religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately
to non-Western cultures that are not based upon such systems, or in which these systems are a substantially simpler construct.
Certain Christian groups are difficult to classify as "Eastern" or "Western." Many Gnostic groups were closely related to early Christianity, for example, Valentinism
wrote polemics against them from the standpoint of the then-unified Catholic Church.
Religions that consist of the traditional customs and beliefs of particular ethnic groups, refined and expanded upon for thousands of years, often lacking formal doctrine.
Note: Some adherents do not consider their ways to be "religion," preferring other cultural terms.