Religious behaviours are behaviours motivated by religious beliefs. Religious actions are also called 'ritual' and religious avoidances are called taboos or ritual prohibitions.

Religious beliefs can inform ordinary aspects of life including eating, clothing and marriage, as well as deliberately religious acts such as worship, prayer, sacrifices etc. As there are over 4,000 religions in the world,[1] there is a wide variety of behaviour.


See also: Spiritual practice, Religion § Practices, and Cult (religious practice)

Religious behaviours may take on several aspects;[2]

The most general religious action is prayer. It can be done quietly by a person all alone,[4] but people can also pray in groups using songs. Sacrifice is also a widely spread religious action (usually time, money or food).[5] Prayer and sacrifice, as well as reading scriptures and attending a meeting at a religious building,[6] often form the basis of other, more complicated religious actions like pilgrimage, processions, or consulting an oracle. Many rituals are connected to a certain purpose, like initiation, ritual purification and preparation for an important happening or task. Among these are also the so-called rituals of transition, which occur at important moments of the human life cycle, like birth, adulthood/marriage, sickness and death.[7] A special religious action is spirit possession and religious ecstasy. Religious specialists, such as priests, vicars, rabbis, imams and pandits are involved in many religious actions.


See also: Taboo

A religious avoidance is when a person desists from something or from some action for religious reasons. It can be food or drink that one does not touch because of one's religion for some time (fast). This abstinence can also be for a longer time. Some people do not have sex (celibacy); others avoid contact with blood, or dead animals. Well known examples are: Jews and Muslims do not eat pork; the celibacy of Catholic priests; the purity rules of Hinduism and Judaism; the Word of Wisdom (which teaches to avoid alcohol, coffee, tea, etc.) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[8]

These avoidances, or 'taboos', are often about;

Religious avoidances are often not easily recognisable as (part of) religious behaviour. When asked, the believers often do not motivate this kind of behaviour explicitly as religious but say the avoidance for health reasons, ethical reasons, or because it is hygienic.

Academic study

See also: Study of religion

Religious behaviour is seldom studied for itself. When it is given attention at all, it is usually studied as an illustration of the religious images, like in comparative religion and cultural anthropology, or as part of the study of man in the social sciences.

Studies can look at both beliefs and actions; for example, studies in the UK looked at people’s attitude to God and the afterlife, as well as actions such as worship attendance and prayer.[10][11] Other surveys may look at similar actions.[12][13]

Religious behaviour is part of a larger area of human behaviour; as such, studies and opinions are always changing.


Negative behaviours

Studies have uncovered a negative relationship between religious beliefs and behaviours such as suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, violence and risky behaviours.[14]


Opposition to religious behaviour can lead to Religious Persecution, where certain individuals and groups are seen as 'separate' and unwelcome due to their beliefs or actions.[15][16][17]

Behaviour in sacred spaces


There are a number of etiquette rules which would include showing up about five or 10 minutes early to allow some time of prayer and "to be ready to participate in the Mass."[18] Other suggestions may include when to stand, sit or kneel, the use of candles or touching of icons.[19]

Jean-Baptiste Massillon gives a lengthy sermon on the Bible verse, "And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves." (Matthew 21:12) stating that "of all crimes, in effect, by which the greatness of God is insulted, I see almost none more deserving of his chastisements than the profanations of his temples; and they are so much the more criminal, as the dispositions required of us by religion, when assisting there, ought to be more holy."[20]


There are a number of etiquette rules when attending a temple, including removal of shoes, bowing and bringing an offering.[21]


There are a number of etiquette rules when attending a mosque, including wearing clean clothes and carrying out ablutions.[22]


There are a number of etiquette rules for the gurdwara, including wearing clean clothes and using head coverings.[23]


There are a number of etiquette rules for the synagogue, including seating arrangements and wearing head coverings.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Visual Capitalist website, Visualizing the World’s Most Popular Religions, article published June 20, 2022
  2. ^ Science Direct website, Psychology of Religion section, Religiosity, by Darren E. Sherkat, published in the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition), 2015
  3. ^ Diversity Style Guide website, Religious Titles
  4. ^ BBC website, Bitesize Guides; Prayer
  5. ^ BBC website, Bitesize Guides; The Five Pillars of Islam
  6. ^ BBC website, Bitesize Guides; The Gurdwara and the Scriptures
  7. ^ National Health Service website, Religious And Cultural Beliefs (2009)
  8. ^ "Word of Wisdom". Retrieved 2020-03-18.
  9. ^ UK Government website, Faith at the End Life (2016)
  10. ^ King’s College London website, Belief, faith and religion: shifting attitudes in the UK May 2023
  11. ^ Guardian website, Christianity as default is gone: the rise of a non-Christian Europe, article by Harriet Sherwood, dated March 21, 2018
  12. ^ British Religion in Numbers website, Figures
  13. ^ University of Oregon website, Religion influences behavior - both good and bad, by Matt Cooper, dated July 14, 2013
  14. ^ Mojahed, A. (2014). "Religiosity and Preventing Risky Behaviors". International Journal of High Risk Behaviors & Addiction. 3 (3): e22844. doi:10.5812/ijhrba.22844. PMC 4286922. PMID 25593894.
  15. ^ Pew Research website, Harassment of religious groups continues to be reported in more than 90% of countries, November 10, 2020
  16. ^ GIS Reports Online website, The Global Crisis of Religious Persecution, August 25, 2023
  17. ^ Atlantic Council website, Faith leaders highlight Russian religious persecution in occupied Ukraine, by Shelby Magid and Mercedes Sapuppo, article dated November 2, 2023
  18. ^ Fr. William Saunders. "Appropriate Behavior in Church".
  19. ^ Christ the Savior Orthodox Church website, Church Etiquette
  20. ^ Massillon, Jean-Baptiste (1879). "Sermon XXI: Respect in the temples of God" . Sermons by John-Baptist Massillon. Thomas Tegg & Sons.
  21. ^ Simple Hinduism website, How to visit a Hindu temple
  22. ^ Masjid Mosque Al-Islam website, Rules for the Masjid (Mosque)
  23. ^ Discover Sikhism website, Gurdwara Etiquette and Protocol
  24. ^ Jewish FAQ website, Synagogues, Shuls and Temples