Finally another worldbuilding post! I’ve been a bit behind on them, but I should get back to the usual scheduling of them once a week. Today’s topic is fictional religions.
Religion is a vital part of any society, and therefore a vital part of building you world. I believe that religion affects a lot of different aspects of society, especially when it comes to moral and ethical standards, sayings, and attitudes. If you don’t know where to start in building a fictitious religion, do some research on the many religions people follow that are out there; that will help you build your fictional one.
Things you might like to consider: Are there multiple religions out there? How many? Does each culture celebrate a separate religion? Do these religious difference between people cause friction? Fights? Wars? Are their multiple gods / divine figures? (Eg, in many mythologies, there are different gods for different things.) Does everyone have to follow a religion? Can they be an atheist? What would happen if someone disrespected a religion? What happens if someone questions the religion? How would they be punished – not at all? Harmed in a physical way (eg, whipping?)? Thrown in jail? Going into a deeper look at the religion you are trying to create: What / who do they worship? One god? Many? Or do they just worship the elements / some other aspect? Is there a story behind your religion? Are any records of this religion written down? (Eg, like the Bible.) If so, does this record have laws? Commandments? Guidelines? Are these religious laws loosely followed? Or are they followed to the letter?
I mentioned above that religion was a big part of worldbuilding – and here’s why. It doesn’t just affect a few people; it affects everyone in your world, regardless of what they believe. Think about how this religion affects your characters’ lives. For example: Does it limit what they eat? Drink? Say? Their actions? Their clothing? How is this religion celebrated? Are their certain days where there are festivals, dances, sacrifices? Are their special days set aside for these religions? (Think: Easter, Christmas, etc.) If so, what happens on these days? Can they only eat certain foods on these days? Do they fast? How strictly are these things followed amongst society? Where are these things celebrated? In a church, outside, a certain building?
Are there poems? Songs / hymns? Chants? Stories?
Also, from a social point of view: Overall in your culture, how important is religion? Does everyone follow it? Are people from different religions allowed to mingle, or even marry? If not, what happens then? I mentioned this above, but also consider the friction between different religions and how that affects you characters and society. Not all religions are going to have the same moral and ethical beliefs. This is likely to create arguments.
Consider what your character believes will happen after death in accordance with their religion. Eg, in most modern religions there is some form of heaven and hell – but what about yours? How does someone get into heaven / hell? Simply by doing good or bad things?
So, as you can see religion can affect your story in a lot of different ways.
Examples of books with a fictional religious aspect: Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (high fantasy); State of Grace by Hilary Badger (utopian-ish; not sure how to define this one.) I found both of these books to have strong fictional religious undertones which may help you get some ideas for your own works.