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So I have been rolling a question...or a series of questions around in my head for a couple weeks. I am working on developing cultures in my world and religion will be a part of it. So I want to ask what will need to be a series of questions on the topic and here are some that I currently have in mind that need answering. Just wanted to see how you all felt about them before I get too crazy.

  • What components make up a religion, this is mainly asking, "When designing a religion what things do all religions have?" Done

  • What has made some religions historically competitive? (Feels too broad not sure how to narrow it)

  • How do religions preach tolerance and good then engage in war against heathens?

  • Does a religion need a 'prophet' mainly meaning the role that say Jesus or Mohammed played in the evolution of Islam and Christianity.

  • Is it realistic that a world has a single religion (perhaps some fringe elements are other)?

There are some more but they build on these.

Thoughts?

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What has made some religions historically competitive? (Feels too broad not sure how to narrow it)

There seems to me to be a fairly easy way to narrow this down quite a bit: define exactly what you mean by "a historically competitive religion".

For example, the answers to (a) what makes people evangelize about a religion are potentially quite different from the answers to (b) what makes "heathens" want to voluntarily join a religion, which again may be quite different from (c) what makes people willing to kill or die for the sake of their religion. By spelling out exactly which effect you are seeking, it becomes much easier to identify specific causes which might lead to that effect, and to draw parallels in the scientific studies of various religions.

If you simply ask what makes a religion "historically competitive", that sounds likely to be in the realm of interpretation, which is likely to (should) get your question closed as "unclear what you are asking".

You may also want to describe the (particularly social) environment in which the religion develops, as that may have an impact on answers.

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How do religions preach tolerance and good then engage in war against heathens?

You could narrow down whether you are asking about human nature or the types of religion that see this effect more often. These seem to be two different questions so you may get clearer answers by separating them.

For example:

What aspects of human psychology allow a population to hold peaceful religious beliefs but support war against people who do not share that belief?

and

What aspects of a religion make its believers more accepting of apparently contradictory teachings (promoting peace and spreading war)?

This recognises the possibility that many religious wars are due to human nature rather than the beliefs held, and that not all religions have historical examples of war or even violence.

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Religion questions are welcome

A previous religion question was closed for being too broad, not for being about religion. All of your questions are much narrower. If any turn out to be still too broad the community will let you know so they can be refined or split further.

Expect conflicting answers

Religion questions will lead to widely varying answers as people have conflicting ideas about what makes a religion work and what is inevitable rather than inspired (and widely differing views on what constitutes human nature). We are all biased and that bias shows through particularly strongly with questions about religion. This doesn't mean you shouldn't ask questions about religion, but expect there to be a very mixed reception for the question and very mixed answers. You may find the mixture of answers more useful than any individual answer.

It's easy to offend without intending to

It is not offensive to ask questions about religion, in the sense that a person taking offense would be considered unreasonable by most people. However, it can be offensive to make assumptions in the course of asking a question - most people would consider it reasonable to take offense at an assumption. So although I would generally advise simply asking the best question you can write, and then adjusting it following feedback, for sensitive subjects such as religion it might be worth asking a meta question (as you have here). You could do the same for individual questions once you've finished the full wording: "Are there any assumptions in this question wording that I should remove to avoid offense?"

I certainly don't think that you need to ask on meta first, but if you want to maximise the variety of answers by not excluding anyone, it may help.

Removing assumptions is a good way to improve a question in general - identifying assumptions helps to attract unexpected answers that approach the question from a more useful angle.

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  • $\begingroup$ I am not at all concerned about Religion related questions being on topic, simply trying to make sure they are good questions for the site (which is more complicated) $\endgroup$ – James Dec 16 '14 at 15:42
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Is it realistic that a world has a single religion (perhaps some fringe elements are other)?

This might need some background. A few hundred years ago, many countries had one enforced religion with only fringe elements that did not comply. However, it's doubtful whether the enforced religion was reflected by the internal beliefs of the individuals as widely as it was expressed externally. Other beliefs were likely to have been present but kept secret.

So it's important to distinguish between asking whether an official religion could dominate the world, and asking whether a single religion could become genuinely accepted by the vast majority of the world. If you are interested in either you could specify that you want a way of portraying either outcome in a realistic setting, or otherwise you could ask the two as separate questions.

I would also expect the population size and population density and ease of communication in the world to be relevant, so if possible I would recommend specifying whether your "world" is a country with medieval technology, a densely populated planet with a politically uncensored internet, or a solar system spanning population, for example.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good note, background will be important. $\endgroup$ – James Dec 16 '14 at 17:04
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Does a religion need a 'prophet' mainly meaning the role that say Jesus or Mohammed played in the evolution of Islam and Christianity.

This can be answered briefly and boringly with a counterexample (of which there are many).

It might be more useful for your setting to ask whether having a historical character as a focus for a religion makes that religion more long lasting and more inclined to spread to others. It seems you are interested in what makes a religion spread and dominate other religions, so it would help to know whether the most widely held religions on Earth are widespread in part due to having a historical character to focus on, or whether that is coincidence and the Abrahamic religions have some other characteristic which makes them more robust and likely to spread (for example, they are all monotheistic).

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  • $\begingroup$ So would specifying the type of religion help? For example saying that the religion is centrally controlled etc? $\endgroup$ – James Dec 16 '14 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what you're asking there. Do you mean would that help clarify the original question, or are you proposing a new religion based question asking about central control rather than a prophet? $\endgroup$ – trichoplax Dec 16 '14 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ looking at it again I am not sure that my comment made a lot of sense. Catholicism would fit but I was also thinking of Islam, but Islam tends to be more decentralized so my theory doesn't really fit. $\endgroup$ – James Dec 16 '14 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ Are you looking to ask a question about what things are essential/useful to a religion? Or are you looking to identify one particular thing and ask a question about it? $\endgroup$ – trichoplax Dec 16 '14 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ Both actually. This will be a series of questions. The first bullet in my question covers the "What is essential to a religion" question. And I have additional specific questions for example the one you quoted referring to whether or not a central figure is needed, although I am thinking that may change to "How do religions with a central character differ from those without?" $\endgroup$ – James Dec 16 '14 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ Then it sounds like you have several on topic questions here. I'd be careful to distinguish between several similar sounding but quite distinct questions: How does a religion with a central character differ? How does a religion with a historical human central character differ? How does a religion with a vulnerable central character differ? $\endgroup$ – trichoplax Dec 16 '14 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ Good points. I will be using this meta thread extensively when formatting my questions! $\endgroup$ – James Dec 16 '14 at 19:15
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What components make up a religion, this is mainly asking, "When designing a religion what things do all religions have?"

This question seems specific, clear, on topic and with definite answers. I wouldn't change it (other than taking out the "mainly asking" bit, which I assume is just for the meta post).

What it makes me think to consider as a separate question is:

In which major aspects do religions differ?

This is what I would find useful in designing an ecosystem of different religions for a world, in order to ensure a good variety rather than just 6 different versions of the same religion with different names for things.

I would see this question as on topic, but some might consider it too broad. I'd be interested to find out. I don't see it as too broad, provided it can be made clear that it's not asking about the trivial differences like language or naming conventions, but about the fundamental differences:

  • Atheistic/monotheistic/polytheistic
  • Enforcing/evangelising/insular
  • Rule based/personal inspiration based
  • Hierarchical/communal

I think those differences are fundamental, but asking the question may throw up things that are more fundamental or a longer list with reasons.

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