I’ve been trying to come up with a proper way to bring this topic up for a couple of weeks now. When creating a world, something often glazed over is a beliefs structure. Every society, even those as varying as our own, have some common beliefs. Now, I’m not talking beliefs planted by politics or government. Those are all common. I’m talking about religion and philosophy.
In regards to any recommendations, I can only say to look at real life for a good example. Also, maybe glance through Plato’s Republic. There are so many aspects that it can be increasingly difficult to not just say “Screw it!” Practices, Beliefs, Relics, Holy Places, Holidays (Holy Days), prominence in a culture, etc… All of this and more must be taken into account.
Are their priests celibate? In some yes, others not, and in some, priests have the highest statuses (Theocracies anyone?)
What role does violence take? Many people tend to find common ground in war Gods or peaceful ones. However, there were the Mohists in China who offered their services to help weaker city-states fend off invaders because they felt it was the right thing to do. There was nothing pro-violence about it, just that it was a part of their beliefs.
How does one decide on holidays? It’s hard to look at Christianity, which sort of overwrote the old pagan holidays with their own versions. Easter was a fertility holiday. Eggs and rabbits are common signs of fertility, hence the Easter Bunny. How do they fit with local festivities? How have they overlapped over the years?
Speaking of symbols, the bane of every student in high school, it’s good to note them. From something simple like the changing seasons, the sun, moon and stars, to more complex things like the cross, there are an infinite number of objects to symbolize, so go nuts! Just make sure you know why they are important, the purpose/story behind them, and if it’s a good or a bad symbol. Don’t forget colors, and/or uniforms (for priests) if applicable. It wouldn’t be the same if we drove to church in our nicest clothes to watch a man in jeans and a stained t-shirt preach to us.
Practices can range from a Sunday mass to prayer times to just common actions. Is there a gesture that is practiced in the faith like praying hands, or the hand over fist for martial arts? Is it like the Muslim faith where you pray towards Mecca at certain times?
Holy grounds are common, yet iffy. Too many, and it won’t be believable, none at all, and people may wonder if the faith is a bunch of stories. They had to happen somewhere, right?
Gods can have personalities! In many polytheistic faiths, the Gods have personalities and conflicts as well as domains of control. This doesn’t meant a single God can’t have a personality. Look at Christianity! Depending on the branch, God is benevolent or vengeful. While this can cause splinter faiths, how does it affect the overall religious system, including holidays, symbols, and relics?
A lack of faith. In more medieval setting, religion was everything. Science wasn’t there to back up a lack of faith. However, that didn’t mean that it didn’t exist. While many still believed in spirits, and powerful/sometimes mystical creatures, faiths like Buddhism and Taoism tended to shrug off the chains of Gods, and find their own beliefs without one. It was still seen as a religion, but a Godless one. In more modern societies though, how has the advancement of science affected religion? Did it change to meet science part way, or is progress hindered by these faiths?
We can’t forget conflict either. In all of history, can anyone honestly say that there is one set of beliefs? It’s possible, but over time we’d see splinter faiths, new faiths, etc… How does a religion handle them? If it’s in a Theocracy we might see war within the month. What if it’s in a place like in the U.S. where people see discrimination for differing beliefs? What about Europe where no one cares?
There’s a lot of work to be put into this matter as the common beliefs of a society give general direction to their behavior and everyday lives. Don’t just slap down a war god and say “Done!” There’s a lot to do.