What is your personal experience with religion

religionWhy do people believe

"After the Lord Jesus spoke to them, he was taken up into heaven and sat at the right hand of God."

Gospel according to Mark

"If the horses had gods, they would look like horses"

Xenophanes of Colophon (approx. 570 BC - approx. 470 BC)

"Who is the one who could measure himself against him in terms of royal dignity?

And how can Gilgamesh say: "I, yes, I am the king!"? -

He has been called "Gilgamesh" by name since the day he was born.

Two thirds of him are God, but his (third) third is man. "

Epic of Gilgamesh, first panel, circa 2000 BC In the translation by Stefan Maul.

Depending on the point of view and worldview, there are different definitions of religion. But all religions are characterized by universal elements such as finding meaning, moral orientation and belief in supernatural powers.

"Interestingly, in evolutionary research on religiosity and religions, one has come back to the definition that Charles Darwin himself - he studied theology - already used back then," says the religious scholar Dr Michael Blume, "namely belief in higher levels Beings, in terms of "super empirical agents", or "supernatural agents", as our English-speaking colleagues say, that is, when we behave towards one another as humans, is social behavior, but when we behave towards beings in whom we believe can, ancestors, spirits, deities, aliens, angels, then that is religious behavior. "

The universality of religion relates to another aspect:

"We are indeed a religious species," says Prof. Russell Gray, Director of the Department of Language and Cultural Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Human History. "Virtually every society we have studied has some form of religious beliefs and practices. There is a great deal of debate among scholars about why that is, why there is this universal characteristic of humanity."

The first traditional religious practices are related to death and the attempt to understand one's own mortality.

"We can see that precisely in the phases in which the frontal lobe is developing, when Homo sapiens and Homo Neandertalensis begin to master advance planning, impulse control, biographical thinking, that is, by becoming aware that others are dying and that they too will die themselves, then we encounter burial behavior, that is, we already notice that there are connections, obviously dealing with death plays a very important role, "says Michael Blume. "And we actually already had that in the Paleolithic. 120,000 years can be considered certain."

The attempt to influence what cannot actually be influenced

In addition to death, early humans were also preoccupied with inexplicable natural phenomena.

"The characteristic explanation for this is that in these times people felt very strongly dependent on nature," says the sociologist of religion Prof. Detlef Pollack, spokesman for the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics" at the University of Münster, "and that they talked about the Religion, through magical practices, through religious rites, have tried to influence what they cannot control with natural means. And that can be described with the term coping with contingency, a term developed by Niklas Luhmann. Religion certainly fulfills a central function in these cultures. "

In systems theory, contingency describes the fundamental openness and uncertainty of human life experience.

"First of all, I would say that religion has to do with the inaccessible, the unknowable, with what we cannot know, not only centrally, but very essentially. And that is an indication that in human life, in nature, in society, in his personal life, cannot take everything under control, and that one has to reckon with the fact that there are forces to which one is at the mercy, and religion is an expression of this awareness that we are not have everything in hand. "

Like Detlef Pollack, Russell Gray suspects that there are additional aspects. The evolutionary biologist does not believe that religion is just a by-product of our lack of cognitive skills.

"I don't think that describing religion as a by-product adequately explains the diversity of religions in the world, and specifically the fact that religion is not available for free. Religion takes a lot of time, a lot of money. And not just money or time must be expended, physical sacrifices can also be required, such as suffering and pain. I think just to say it is a by-product of something else does not get the meaning of religion. "

In his opinion, other explanatory models also fall short, for example, "that religion is some kind of pathological virus - that is the view of Richard Dawkins - it is adaptable, but only for its own benefit. It damages its host, he says. Some People find this amusing, but I don't think that fits in with the scientific evidence showing that religions support loved ones survival and social behavior. "

The third scientific approach goes in a similar direction:

"The third thesis why religions are so widespread is that they are functional, functional in the sense of cultural evolution. One reason for this is that they support social behavior and cooperation in groups."

But are they therefore a necessary prerequisite for encouraging people to behave socially? Or to put it another way: Would people without religion be less social? No, says Donald Pfaff, whose book "The Altruistic Brain" will be published in Germany next week.

He starts with an example:

"Weslay Autray was standing on a subway platform in New York when a man next to him had an epileptic seizure and fell on the tracks just before a train came. Autray jumped right behind, protecting the man with his body as the train passed came to a stop. Why did he do that? "

That was the question that preoccupied the head of the Neurobiology and Behavioral Psychology Laboratory at Rockefeller University in New York City. Last year, the scientist explained his theory about the altruistic brain in a lecture at James Madison University. The neurobiologist said that his wife works in a college library. He often took photocopies of his specialist literature with him to study while he waited for his wife.

"One night when I was finishing my science studies in the library - I'm a neurobiologist - my gaze wandered over the spine of the books in the well-appointed Comparative Religious Studies section of that college. After reading there for a while, I wondered why I was across continents and over centuries could not find a religion that failed to include a statement about the so-called "golden rule". "

The "golden rule" describes what is known as reciprocal altruism. Reciprocal means that altruistic behavior should be balanced between individuals - according to the motto "I help you - you help me!". The scientist is convinced that this behavioral disposition is anchored in the blueprint of our brain and can be demonstrated neurobiologically, as he explains in his book.

But if the brain of Homo sapiens is endowed with this property per se, no religious rules are required to demand altruism. On the other hand, it could be a possible explanation for why humans also endow their gods with this quality. Gods are not only characterized by human-like characteristics. According to Russell Gray, they are also shaped by the environment in which the people who adore them live.

"Our research has indeed shown that there is a connection between the environment and gods. Carlos Botero, colleagues and I looked at certain types of religions around the world. We looked at the existence of a certain type of god, namely great, moralizing ones Gods mediating in human affairs and very powerful. What we found out when we looked at the spread of the various gods is that they are more common in an environment that is harsh and where life is real for people That is, the ecological constraints in which human societies live shape their conception of the gods in whom they believe. "

In addition to desirable behavior and the environment, scientists also see an interaction between power relations, religions and religious practices. A study recently published in "Nature" by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Man, the University of Auckland and the Victoria University of Wellington supports this thesis.

"My graduate student Joseph Watts and colleagues have found that there is indeed a link - probably a causal link - between religious practices and social inequality."

Social inequality is a relatively modern phenomenon in human history. For tens of thousands of years people lived in small, relatively egalitarian societies, until hierarchies suddenly emerged in the late Neolithic and increasingly at the beginning of the Bronze Age.

"We were interested in the extent to which certain religious practices could have helped to establish and promote the evolution of today's hierarchical society. In particular, we looked at ritual human sacrifice, that is, the religiously approved killing of people," says Prof. Russell Gray.

"What we found using computer-based methods was that in a cross-section of 93 historic Austronesian cultures from the Pacific and East Asian regions, the societies that were more unequal tended to human sacrifice. We were able to show that societies that practiced human sacrifice were less likely returned to an egalitarian society, but rather stuck to this hierarchy and even increased this social inequality. "

According to the scientists, ritual human sacrifices made a decisive contribution to the fact that the elites consolidated their power over the lower social classes. Similar sacrificial practices can be found in ancient China and ancient Egypt, but also among the Aztecs. Once social systems were in place, the practice of human sacrifice was replaced by more formal methods of control.

To this day, the pattern of connection between religion and politics has persisted in many societies. This is exactly what scientists in the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics" at the University of Münster are researching. But what does this link mean for religion, what does it mean for politics? Prof. Detlef Pollack, spokesman for the Cluster of Excellence:

"For religion it means to a large extent that it is largely instrumentalized. Take Russia for example: In Russia we are observing a strong religious upswing. This religious upswing has been observed since 1990 / '92, that is to say since 25 Years ago, and one can say that this is at the expense of the Church, insofar as the Russian Orthodox Church is politically instrumentalized, is used to legitimize the system of rule, and there you can see that religion, religious beliefs, religious practices , are very nationalistically charged. "

With the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the USSR lost its great power status, a painful loss for many of its residents, combined with an identity crisis. According to the religious scholar Dr. Michael Blume

"Basically, religiosity is very strongly activated by existential insecurity, that is, when people feel bad, if they live materially insecure or if they feel existentially threatened, then a great longing for religiosity breaks out."

"People are of the opinion that America has a kind of divine mission"

Sections of the American middle class also feel threatened by existential insecurity, and their values, in turn, feel that they belong to the fundamentalist evangelicals. An important point here are the political, social and economic interests that are associated with the respective religious communities. Detlef Pollack:

"One can observe that many of those who follow fundamentalism have certain political ideas about how America should bring democracy, the rule of law and freedom into the world. And these ideas are on the one hand political in nature, on the other On the other hand, it also has a religious connotation, that is, people are of the opinion that America has a kind of divine mission. "

The volume with which fundamentalists represent their positions, however, belies the fact that evangelicals represent only a minority in the American population.

"It's about 15 to 20 percent of the total population. Overall, however, you have to say that the importance of religion in the USA is declining, for example if you look at the so-called mainline churches, for example the churches that are more closely related to the If you are connected to the social mainstream, then you can see that they are becoming less important, and in the meantime we have 20-25 percent non-denominational in the USA, as much as in West Germany. "

Why is it that in western-oriented, modern states, religion is becoming less important? Michael Blume:

"If people are doing very well for a long time, then religiosity crumbles on average, that is, if people are existentially very secure, then that activates much weaker, then it also takes a back seat."

The religions that are represented in modern societies today have also developed in the course of evolution.

"What is really exciting is that we can actually see: In small group societies where you still know each other personally, the common ancestors are very important," says the religious scholar Dr. Michael Blume.

"When societies get bigger and more complex, the gods also get bigger and more complex. Then we have deities for trade, for war, for fertility. Deities for cities, Pallas Athene for example. And then finally in the vicinity of the emerging great civilizations also in the nomadic areas, where the belief arises in a deity who knows everything, who includes everything, who has everyone in view. That is only a few thousand years old, but has been the model of success since then. "

In most complex societies today there are Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Islam or Judaism. Michael Blume:

"The complexity of societies is also related to what kind of religion it produces."

So is there an interaction between religion and society?

Are we creating the religion we need?

"That's an interesting thought," says Prof. Russell Gray from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Human History. "Of course, believers, fundamentalists at least, will believe that their religion comes directly from God and is not some human construct. But our research shows that beliefs and religious practices are shaped by environmental and cultural forces. They show differences in different societies That is not to say that all beliefs and religious practices are strictly functional, but it does mean that they are far more variable and flexible than we thought. So we are actually at least rudimentarily creating the religions that we need, but we are limited by the environment and limited by the culture in which we live. "

If we shape our religion the way we need it, does that mean, conversely, that we no longer need it in the modern, enlightened world? The theologian and sociologist of religion Prof. Detlef Pollack

"I wouldn't assume that religion is something that is necessary anyway. There are certain things that are really necessary, for example that we can feed ourselves, that we have the opportunity to protect ourselves. We need a bed somewhere "We need an opportunity to sleep. There are necessary needs that we cannot do without, and that would be the first question, is religion one of them? And if you look at it that way, religion may not be something that is necessary." for society or for the individual, then there is no question of what will take the place of religion. We can still lead a morally and personally existentially fully valid life.The question of what will take the place of religion presupposes that religion is indispensable. And I would not do this without further ado. "

But on the one hand there is scientific knowledge, on the other hand there is personal life. Detlef Pollack also differentiates between the two dimensions:

"I would say yes, religion plays a very central role for me, as does the church, and participation in church life also plays a major role for me. Even if I deal with religious questions in a more distant manner in science, I feel like that fully aware that in practice, in the practice of religion, a dimension comes into play that cannot be scientifically brought to the point. "