Across the world, people have developed many diverse and complex ways to express their religious beliefs. Their beliefs, values and practices can create a sense of identity that brings people together, as well as being a source of conflict or stress, especially for those who feel discriminated against. In a wider context, religion is a cultural phenomenon that can be a transforming constraint on human lives and release the possibility of a brilliant kaleidoscope of different writing in philosophy, poetry, story and drama.
Religions may provide mechanisms for social control, promote psychological and physical health, and serve as the foundations of moral/ethical and economic reasoning. They also offer guidance in coping with death and other existential questions. They can also be vehicles for achieving some of the most important goals that can be imagined: proximate goals in this life (a wiser, more fruitful, more charitable and successful way of living) and ultimate ones in the next one.
A number of scholars have criticized the notion of religion, suggesting that it has become overused to describe an enormous variety of experiences and practices. Some critics, like Joseph Smith, have suggested that to define something as a “religion” is to give it a false value; others, like Edgar S. Crawley, have argued that a definition of religion should not be based on any belief system or mental state. More recently, some critics, such as Talal Asad, have urged scholars to shift attention from substantive definitions to the ways that assumptions baked into the concept of religion have distorted our grasp of historical realities.