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At the simplest level religion is the belief in the power of supernatural. These beliefs are present in all the societies and variations seem endless. A belief in the supernatural almost always incorporates the idea that supernatural forces have some influence or control upon the world.

The first indication of a possible belief in the supernatural dates from about 60,000 years ago. Archaeological evidences reveal that Neanderthal man buried his dead with stone tools and jewellery.Religion is often defined as people's organized response to the supernatural although several movements which deny or ignore supernatural concerns have belief and ritual systems which resemble those based on the supernatural. However these theories about the origin of religion can only be based on speculation and debate.

Though religion is a universal phenomenon it is understood differently by different people. On religion, opinions differ from the great religious leader down to an ordinary man. There is no consensus about the nature of religion. Sociologists are yet to find a satisfactory explanation of religion.

Durkheim in his The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life defines religion as a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things that is to say things set apart and forbidden. James G Frazer in his The Golden Bough considered religion a belief in powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of nature and of human life.Maclver and Page have defined religion as we understand the term, implies a relationship not merely between man and man but also between man and some higher power. According to Ogburn religion is an attitude towards superhuman powers.Max Muller defines religion as a mental faculty or disposition which enables man to apprehend the infinite.

To answer the question how did religion begin – two main theories animism and naturism were advanced. The early sociologists, adhering to evolutionary framework, advocated that societies passed through different stages of development and from simplicity to complexity is the nature of social progress. The scholars who have contributed to the field of magic, religion and science can broadly be divided into four different types such as

  • evolutionary scholars
  • fundamentalist
  • symbolic theorists
  • analytical functionalists.

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