creating religions

Posted by CavemanBOK on 13:33 9/1/02

In reply to: (none)

aside from winging it and just coming up with ideas that seem good, what organized way is there to come up with religions for a fantasy setting? i hate the name-the-gods, give-them-a-job, create-a-mythology route most everyone goes, it always seems to lead to stereotypes (not just archetypes). and on religious diversity-- for a 14ish million pop, 500 mile coastal valley plain, is there a certain amount of religions/cultures that could develop plausibly, a limit based on any kind of anthropological guidelines? in other words is, say, 5 different religions too much for such a region, or is it basically, anything goes?

Mark responds:

I share your feeling about quick-n-easy pantheons, which will basically result in an imitation of Greek mythology. As in other aspects of world creation, my advice is not to read fantasy but about our own world. Marvin Harris's Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches is eye-opening on what makes religions work.

There's no fixed answer to "how many religions"; it depends on your culture and its neighbors. In classical conditions, each ethnic group is likely to develop its own religion, and not share. Universalist religions like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism are likely only to appear once you have large empires, and people start to have the idea that a religion could work for everyone.

What happens when a few religions start to mix is up to you. In Europe, Christianity absorbed a few pagan practices and a large dose of Greek philosophy, but effectively eliminated its rivals. In China and Japan, Buddhism complemented the native traditions. In Latin America, the Spanish converted everyone to Christianity, but the people to a large extent retained their gods under the guise of saints.

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