The word religion is used to describe a set of beliefs and practices that create cohesion within and across cultures. It is also a term that has been applied to any organization or social formation that has a cult-like quality, such as political parties and military units. Some scholars, most notably Emile Durkheim, have treated the concept of religion as a feature of human culture that is inevitable and necessary. This view has not been widely adopted by sociologists.
Nonetheless, it is clear that people organize their lives around religions, whether or not they believe in them. Religions help people make sense of the world around them and offer ways to deal with it. They are often a source of moral authority, providing people with a code for how to live, and a standard for what is right and wrong. Religions are also the source of a sense of community that goes beyond kinship groups and tribes and may include all of humanity.
Despite these positive aspects, the risks of religion are considerable. Throughout history, individual persons and whole communities and nations have been willing to persecute and kill each other over religious differences. As the philosopher Rodney Needham points out, a threat to religion is a danger to human life and society. As such, it is important for anthropologists to be aware of the potential for violence and bloodshed in religious contexts.