Religion is a pervasive force around the world. As the newsflashes in the introduc-tion suggest, religion shapes how people behave and how they think about theworld and their place in it. Before we can understand the effects of religion in our world, however, we need to
understand what exactly religion is. For many Americans, the word evokes familiar images of church, worship, prayer, traditions, and pilgrimage. Religion is harder to recognize, however, when it takes less familiar forms:
• Following strict rules that govern the killing of an animal • Carefully washing hands before a meal • Performing a dance or a song • Frequently repeating a particular greeting or kind words • Following restrictions on food or drink that have nothing to do with dieting or being
a picky eater
Each of these acts is infused with religious meaning, at least to some groups of people. It is easy to overlook the significance of these acts, however, if you do not know much about religious beliefs and practices outside your own faith.