by Audrey

Question: I do not really understand the religion part of worldbuilding. How do I incorporate religion into my races? Like, does religion only include the rituals they do and their beliefs? Thank you!

Answer: I may get pushback from people on this, but here's how I see religion in stories...

Religion in the real world is all about how people make or find meaning in their life. All human beings instinctively make meaning, and collaborate with others in making meaning.

Some aspects of religion and meaning-making include...

* Community involvement (hence, religions are often about what people do together including mutual aid).

* A shared understanding of the world (i.e. why do good/bad things happen, what rules or practices will lead to happiness, what things should be considered good or evil?). This is where morality comes from.

* A shared sense of history (i.e. stories of how the world came to be, celebrating events of the past).

* A shared identity (i.e. this is the unique story of our people. These are the things that set us apart from others.)

* Purging of anxiety, guilt, other negative emotions (i.e. emotionally cathartic services, ritual sacrifices, scapegoating, prayer, confession, meditation). In other words, religion helps us feel better about ourselves.

* Predicting the future. During hard times, which always come, it's comforting to believe there is a plan, that the future will be better, or that we can do something to make it better (by performing the right acts).

* A sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves such as a community or a universe that tells us a) we are important but b) not responsible for everything that happens.

Human beings always do the best to incorporate truth into their understanding of the world. The problem is that we don't know everything and our lack of knowledge creates anxiety. We hate not knowing things. So we make up explanations for things based on inadequate information, because even a false explanation feels better than no explanation. (The less scientific knowledge a community has, the more false explanations arise.)

Unfortunately, false explanations often turn into dogma. The emotional benefit of having an explanation, even a false explanation, can be threatened by doubt, even if that doubt is backed by strong
proof. For this reason, all religions encourage people to have faith in the explanations and not question them even when new information comes along.

Different groups of people coming up with different explanations, rituals, histories, practices, rules, etc. leads to different religions.

Of course, religion is also often used by the powerful to maintain power, by convincing everyone that they should follow the rules, even when those rules clearly favour the powerful more than the majority. (E.g. "God told me you should all build me a palace.") Some religions, such as cults, have leaders who are far more exploitative than others.

At the same time, meaning based on evidence and reason also play a part in all human societies.

If you are creating a fictional world, you can have a more secular world where meaning is mostly based on scientific evidence and reason.

Or you can have a more faith-based world where the explanations are not so evidence-based and leaders work hard to convince people to have faith and reject contradictory evidence.

In some stories, religion is not that important. However, if religion is to play a big part in your world, you might ask yourself how people derive meaning in that world. How much of their understanding is based on mythology and superstition vs. observation of evidence and experience. What are their unique mythologies? What sort of rituals do they use to ease their emotional stress? What rules are they supposed to follow? How much is religion the tool of the powerful?

Also, you might consider how strict the rules are. Are they so rigid that people suffer greatly from following them? Or are they more flexible and open to interpretation? Are there punishments for breaking the rules? How easily can one get forgiveness?

Finally, if you have a conflict between two peoples, that might lead to a conflict between religions -- different explanations for the world, different rules, different traditions, etc.

Having different religions implies that at least one of them is wrong about some things, and that insight threatens faith. Sometimes the only way people feel they can protect their faith is to stamp out the other religion and its followers.

This makes for a lot of drama that can add to a story.

Best of luck.

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