When worldbuilding, it’s so hard to say that one aspect is more important than the others especially when speaking in a general sense. Each different aspect that we cover is important, but which is most important depends so much on the story you are trying to tell. In this post we are going to focus on worldbuilding religion (or religions).
There are many stories where religion is the most important aspect of worldbuilding, but there are just as many (if not more) stories where religion plays little to no role. Even if religion isn’t supposed to be a huge part of your story, chances are it does exist within the world you’ve created. That’s why I believe it’s worth thinking about even if your characters aren’t religious, because if there is a religion in the world, it will impact how society and individuals behave.
Questions about Religion
- Is religion common? How many people practice a religion?
- How does religion fit into society? In what ways does it contribute to society? Is religion separate from government or are they intricately linked?
- How do religions view non-believers? How do they view people of different faiths? Are inter-faith marriages tolerated, and how are they viewed both by individual religions and by society?
- Are any of the religions in conflict with each other? How does this conflict manifest? If the gods truly exist, are any of them in conflict with each other?
- Where is the religion practiced? Worldwide? In specific countries? In remote regions of specific countries?
If your story is more focused on religion or it interacts with religion to a higher degree, you may find that you need to know a bit more about how the religion in question functions and what the beliefs are. The following set of questions will help kick start the creation of a specific religion and to delve deeper into why it functions the way it does.
Questions about Each Specific Religion
- How did the religion begin?
- What is the religion called? What are its followers called? Does it have a clergy? What are the various roles called?
- How many gods does it have? Which are the major ones? Do they actually exist? Do they interact with the world and to what degree? Why are the gods interested in people? Is there anything the gods can’t or won’t do?
- What are the main beliefs or tenets of the religion? What are its major holidays? How does it handle specific life moments such as births, deaths, marriages, and coming of age?
- How do they worship their gods or express their faith?
- What do they believe happens after death? Is this only for those of faith, or is this what happens to everyone? Can an individual impact what happens to them after death?
- How does the religion explain the creation of the universe? How does it explain evil? What is the religions definition of sin? Can one atone for sinning, and if so, how?
- What are the religions thoughts on the following topics: morality, murder, suicide, alcohol and drug use, homosexuality, gender roles, the family unit, marriage, intercourse, and contraception.
Once you’ve gone through and answered all these questions, and whichever ones spring to mind while you’re working away, don’t forget that I’ve left out the most important question of all: Why? As far as religions are concerned the whys can be on the ambiguous side. After all, religions are built on faith, not necessarily fact, so not all the rituals and practices have to make complete sense (especially if the religion is very old and has changed over the centuries).
Are there any other questions about religion that you think are important to consider in the early stages of worldbuilding? Let me know in the comments.