"Instead of studying religion by trying to measure unidentifiable beliefs in the supernatural, we looked at identifiable and observable behavior - the behavior of people communicating acceptance of supernatural claims," said Craig T. Palmer, associate professor of anthropology in the MU College of Arts and Science. "We noticed that communicating acceptance of a supernatural claim tends to promote cooperative social relationships. This communication demonstrates a willingness to accept, without skepticism, the influence of the speaker in a way similar to a child's acceptance of the influence of a parent."
"Almost every religion in the world, including all tribal religions, use family kinship terms such as father, mother, brother, sister and child for fellow members," Steadman said. "They do this to encourage the kind of behavior found normally in families - where the most intense social relationships occur. Once people realize that observing the behavior of people communicating acceptance of supernatural claims is how we actually identify religious behavior and religion, we can then propose explanations and hypotheses to account for why people have engaged in religious behavior in all known cultures."
I’ve always found this a very good take on religion (From John Stewart):
"I think the best thing religion does is give people a sense of place, purpose, and compassion. My quibble with it is when it’s described as the only way to have those things instilled."
I can’t find it right now but he also says that: “Religion is how people cope in a world wrecked by religion.” - Quite an interesting thought, I might add.
There was also a study that was conducted by Ohio State University that says that people naturally have the desire to fulfil 16 basic human needs, some of which are: honour, idealism, curiosity and acceptance. The study says that it is for this reason that people turn to religion as it is the easiest way to fulfil these needs and has been for as long as we have been able to create religions. Information on that study can be found here.
People have an almost insatiable need for ‘ekstasis’ or ecstasy, to give meaning to their lives. This so-called ‘stepping outside’ finds expression in many ways such as music, dance, sport, sex and sadly in drug- and alcohol-abuse as well. It can also be found in religious fervour, attending religious gatherings in churches, mosques and synagogues, Satan worship; participating in secret societies, group activities and community projects. It also forms an important basis for joining radical groups, labour movements, political meetings, and for fundamentalism and radicalism.
It is not strange therefore that the emotional expression and participation in these activities can become addictive or that the expectations of what benefits are to be derived from such activities, are often totally unrealistic and indeed silly.
It is not evil or abnormal for people to have this need, it is merely human. However, when the derived and perceived benefits impinge upon reason and one’s grasp of reality, it becomes problematic. Unfortunately there are no boundaries drawn by those who promote such participation. In fact it is probably the opposite.