Throughout history, religion has been both a source of freedom and a tool of oppression. People have sought to answer fundamental questions of life, such as what is the meaning of human existence and what happens after death. They have crafted rituals, developed communities, and established institutions. They have engaged in proselytizing and missionary work, sometimes in cooperation with the state and other times in opposition to it.
While there is wide agreement that beliefs in disembodied spirits and cosmological orders have been part of religion, not everyone would agree on what constitutes a religious belief. Sociologists tend to use a three-sided model that focuses on the “true, beautiful, and good.” A fourth C can be added for community, which includes such aspects of social life as habits, physical culture, and social structures, as well as the presence or absence of organized religions.
A defining feature of religion is the relation that people have to that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. This could be a god or spirit, or, in more humanistic and naturalistic traditions, it might be a broader notion of the human community or nature.
The philosophers Rene Descartes and Thomas Hobbes are often cited as early advocates of naturalism, while the German idealist Georg Hegel emphasized the formative power of spirituality on history. The French social philosopher Auguste Comte, working from a more positivistic perspective, devised a system that placed religion alongside science as a way to refer to the unknown Absolute.