Whether it comes in the form of religion or some other belief system, humans throughout recorded history have looked to the supernatural for answers to life’s most perplexing questions.
Nature vs. society
On the surface, it might seem obvious that people have long turned to their faith in a deity or higher power to find meaning in a chaotic world. After all, that’s been a common assessment among philosophers for centuries.
But a team of researchers recently set out to determine exactly how different societies utilize their belief in the supernatural — particularly what they hope to explain through those beliefs.
As it turns out, most of the questions that religion has been tasked with answering are related to nature (like droughts or disease) rather than society (like murder or war).
There are obviously some clear exceptions to this rule, but the general trend can be followed throughout history and in groups of individuals from every corner of the globe.
Digging into the data
Scientists have spent five years studying religious texts and recorded beliefs from 114 different societies and found some pretty compelling similarities. Whether it was a group of hunter-gatherers in Africa, a more modern Turkish society, or any number of communities in between, there seemed to always be a connection between supernatural beliefs and a desire for answers about the natural world.
These statistics put it all in proper perspective:
- 96% of societies used the supernatural to explain diseases.
- Nine out of ten of the studied groups turned to religion for answers about drought.
- A total of 92% sought clarity about other natural disasters from their belief systems.
Although societal issues were sometimes addressed, it was significantly less common. For example, only about a quarter of the groups included in the research used the supernatural to explain theft.