One of the central facts of human existence is that every society shares a set of beliefs and assumptions - a faith, an ideology, a religion - that goes far beyond the life of the individual. These beliefs are an essential part of a shared identity. They have a unique power to define - and to divide - us, and are a driving force in the politics of much of the world today. Throughout history they have most often been, in the widest sense, religious.
Yet this book is not a history of religion, nor an argument in favour of faith. It is about the stories which give shape to our lives, and the different ways in which societies imagine their place in the world. Looking across history and around the globe, it interrogates objects, places and human activities to try to understand what shared beliefs can mean in the public life of a community or a nation, how they shape the relationship between the individual and the state, and how they help give us our sense of who we are.
For in deciding how we live with our gods, we also decide how to live with each other.
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