There are two broad groups of theories about the origin of religion (David Bbarett et. Al. eds. World Christian Encyclopedia)

1. Faith-Based.

There are about 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many unique faith groups. Among these religions of great diversity, there are probably hundreds of different religious creation stories which describe how humans, other species of life, the earth, and the rest of the universe came to be. Many of these stories describe the origin of their particular religions. It was typically a revelation from one or more deities.

2. Science-Based.

Anthropologists, evolutionary biologists and other researchers have reached proto-humans who originated somewhere in Africa. These proto-humans aided their chances of surviving in a cruel and unpredictable world. Their awareness of personal mortality produced an intolerable emotional drain. During their evolution from proto-human to full human, they developed questions about themselves and their environment.

  • What controlled the seasonal cycles of nature- the daily motion of the sun; the motion of the stars; the passing of the season, etc…?
  • What controlled their environment – what or who caused floods, rains, dry spells, storms, and etc…?
  • What controls fertility – of the tribe, its animals and crops?
  • What system of morality is needed to best promote the stability of the tribe?
  • And above all; what happens to a person after he/she dies?

People living in the prehistoric society had no way of resolving these questions. Even today, with all of our scientific advances, we still debate about the second last question and still have no way of reaching a consensus on the last. Some people within the tribe started to invent answers based on their personal guesses or hunches. Thus developed:

  • The first religious beliefs system
  • The fist priesthood
  • The first set of rituals to appease the Gods and Goddesses
  • Other rituals to control fertility and other aspects of the environment
  • A set of behavioural expectations for members of the tribe.
  • A set of moral truths to govern human behaviour

Unfortunately, because these beliefs systems were based on hunches, the various religious teachings which developed in different areas of the world were all different. Their teachings were in conflict with each other. Because the followers of most religious considered their beliefs to be derived from God, they cannot be easily changed. Thus, inter-religious compromise is difficult or impossible. Also, because religious texts are often ambiguous, divisions developed within religions. Different denominations, schools, or traditions have derived different meanings from the same religious texts. Thus were laid the foundations for inter-religious and intra-religious conflicts.