Common Elements of Religion


Throughout history, religions have tried to control the actions of their followers using various moral grounds. Therefore, religions have various common basic elements. Anthropology has helped in identifying the common elements of different religions. The elements are evident in both historical and ‘advanced’ religions. Myths, taboos, and animism are some of the common elements of different religions. The elements define how people should behave in the society. In addition, they provide explanations of different beliefs within the religion. Animism is one of the oldest elements.


Mythology is one of the major characteristics of all religions. This is regardless of whether they are basic or advanced religions. In contemporary parlance, myths generally refer to lies or false beliefs. The myth of Aryan supremacy is one of the false beliefs. However, the study of religion uses the term myth differently. Myths refer to the religious stories on the dealings between humans and gods. They enable people to visualize the interactions between humans and gods. They usually form the foundation of various beliefs in the religion. Historically, preliterate societies used myths to transmit their religions from generation to another (Antion & Ruml, 2011).

Christianity has several myths that act as a foundation of its beliefs. The death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven of Jesus Christ is one of the major myths of Christianity. According to Christianity, God offered the blessed sacrifice of Jesus Christ to carry the sins of all men. Therefore, if people have sinned, they should ask for forgiveness from God. God has the power to forgive people regardless of their sins. The dying god is a mythical theme that is present in many religions especially religions in the Near East. The Bible details the story of Noah, where the sinful life of people in the world made God cause a huge flood, which cleansed the world in preparation for the rebirth of a more righteous society. Flood myths are common in all Abrahamic religions. In addition, certain ancient religions also had flood myths. The common feature of all flood myths is that they have a hero who ensure the rebirth of humanity (Hopfe & Woodward, 2012).

Religions use myths to provide an explanation “on the whys and hows of the world” (Hopfe & Woodward, 2012, p. 24). Myths may provide an explanation to on the creation. Religions have different myths on creation. Religions also have myths that explain the powers of certain religious personalities. Myths helps in defining various religious practices. Religions do not use scientific foundations to explain the occurrence of various things in the world. In fact, science has discounted several religious myths.


Religions strive to dictate the activities of its followers. Therefore, it may prohibit them from undertaking certain activities lest. Failure to do so would make the spirit world cause harm to an individual. The prohibited activities are referred to as taboos. In a basic society, holy places, persons, and objects are taboo to ordinary people in the society. Therefore, an individual should not touch holy objects or enter holy places without great fear. An individual who knowingly violates taboos may face great harm (Antion & Ruml, 2011).

The Bible in Second Kings 2:23–25 details an incident where a boy mocked Prophet Elisha. A prophet was a sacred religious personality. Due to the transgressions on a prophet, two bears mauled the boy. In addition, Second Samuel 6:1–7 details an incident where God struck dead a man who touched the Ark of the Covenant. This is despite the fact that the man touched the Ark of the Covenant to prevent is from falling from a cart. The Ark of the Covenant was one of the holiest objects in the kingdom. Only certain religious personalities could touch it (Hopfe & Woodward, 2012).

Religions have different taboos. One of the most common taboos regards the conduct of women during menses. Judaism considers menstruating women as ritually unclean. Therefore, it states that people should avoid getting into contact with menstruating women before rituals. In Islam, menstruating women are prohibited from taking part in religious activities. In addition, husbands it prohibits husbands from having sexual intercourse with their wives during menses.  However, it does not restrict the women from engaging in other social activities normally. Hinduism regards menstruating women as impure. Therefore, she must be ‘purified’ before she can return to her home and interact freely with her family. Christianity and Sikhism do not have any taboos regarding the conduct of women during menses. Christianity allows women to interact freely and perform their normal functions during menses. On the hand, Sikhism claims that washing the body does not affect the spiritual purity of an individual. Therefore, it does not relate spiritual purity with menses (Antion & Ruml, 2011).


Animism is the notion that non-human entities have a spiritual essence. Therefore, nature is alive with many spirits, which have feelings. In addition, animism assumes that people can communicate with spirits. The physical and spiritual world are the major components of an animistic worldview. In this worldview, there is no clear differences between the spiritual world and the spiritual world. What happens in one reality may affect the other. If the spirits are pleased, they may help people. On the other hand, if the spirits are offended, they may harm people. Therefore, animism assumes that the spirits are personal. People should strive to avoid offending the spirits. Sir Edward Taylor, the first person to undertake research on animism. He termed animistic beliefs as ‘childish’ beliefs that portrayed the cognitive underdevelopment of a society. He claimed that these beliefs were common among ‘primitive’ societies such as the hunter-gatherer societies. Despite the advancements in technology, many religions still believe in animism. Christianity has several elements of animism. Christianity encourages the spirituality of its followers. Therefore, Christian animism enables Christians to experience, understand, and relate to the different entities in the universe. This helps in spiritual nourishment of Christians (Hopfe & Woodward, 2012).

Animism is prevalent in both Abrahamic and Eastern religions. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists believe that the spirits may bless or curse an individual. Therefore, they fear strive to appease the spirits to seek ‘its’ blessings. Most religions have acquired animistic beliefs due to the conversion of people with the beliefs into the religion. Christianity is the major religion that highlights this trend. Christianity has not displaced the local folk religion of people upon their conversion. Therefore, both religions coexist in an uneasy tension. Coexistence of the religions has led to the incorporation of animistic beliefs into Christianity (Antion & Ruml, 2011).


Religion is one of the major factor that holds the society together. All religions share ideas on how people should live and what happens when people die. They also provide stories on the origin of creation. Taboos and myths dictate the activities that people should engage in. On the other hand, animism fosters respect of nature and the spirits. Therefore, religion leads to the creation of norms that facilitate social harmony.

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