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Religion is a system of social coherence based on a common group of beliefs or attitudes concerning an object, person, unseen being, or system of thought considered to be supernatural, sacred, divine or highest truth, and the moral codes, practices, values, institutions, traditions, and rituals associated with such belief or system of thought. It is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system"<ref>The words "belief system" may not necessarily refer to a religion, though a religion may be referred to as "belief system." </ref>, but is more socially defined than that of personal convictions. The development of religion has taken many forms in various cultures. "Organized religion" generally refers to an organization of people supporting the exercise of some religion with a prescribed set of beliefs, often taking the form of a legal entity (see religion-supporting organization). Other religions believe in personal revelation and responsibility.


[edit] Definition of religion

There are many definitions of religion, and most have struggled to avoid an overly sharp definition on the one hand, and meaningless generalities on the other. Some have tried to use formalistic, doctrinal definitions and others have tried to use experiential, emotive, intuitive, valuational and ethical factors.

Sociologists and anthropologists see religion as an abstract set of ideas, values, or experiences developed as part of a cultural matrix. Primitive religion was indistinguishable from the sociocultural acts where custom and ritual defined an emotional reality.

Other religious scholars have put forward a definition of religion that avoids the reductionism of the various sociological and psychological disciplines that relegate religion to its component factors. Religion may be defined as the presence of a belief in the sacred or the holy. For example Rudolf Otto's "The Idea of the Holy," formulated in 1917, defines the essence of religious awareness as awe, a unique blend of fear and fascination before the divine. Friedrich Schleiermacher in the late 18th century defined religion as a "feeling of absolute dependence."

The Encyclopedia of Religion describes religion in the following way:

"In summary, it may be said that almost every known culture involves the religious in the above sense of a depth dimension in cultural experiences at all levels — a push, whether ill-defined or conscious, toward some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life. When more or less distinct patterns of behaviour are built around this depth dimension in a culture, this structure constitutes religion in its historically recognizable form. Religion is the organization of life around the depth dimensions of experience — varied in form, completeness, and clarity in accordance with the environing culture."
(Winston King, Encyclopedia of Religion, p 7693)

[edit] Development of religion

Image:Dome of the rock distance.jpg
Jerusalem is an ancient and sacred city of key importance to three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Pictured is the Temple Mount.

There are a number of models regarding the ways in which religions come into being and develop. Broadly speaking, these models fall into three categories:

  • Models which see religions as social constructions;
  • Models which see religions as progressing toward higher, objective truth;
  • Models which see a particular religion as absolutely true;

The models are not mutually exclusive. Multiple models may be seen to apply simultaneously, or different models may be seen as applying to different religions.

[edit] Religion as a social construction

This group of models holds that religion is a social construction, rather than referring to actual supernatural phenomena; that is, phenomena beyond the natural world that we measure using the scientific method. Some of these models view religion as nonetheless having or having had a mostly positive effect on society, the individual, and civilization itself, and others view it as having or having had a mostly injurious or destructive effect. Many of these views have their origins in the field of the sociology of religion.

Models that view religion as a social construction include the "Dogma Selection Model," which holds that religions, although untrue in themselves, encode instructions or habits useful for survival, and that these ideas "mutate" periodically as they are passed on, and spread or die out in accord with their effectiveness at improving chances for survival. Karl Marx stated that "Religion is the opium of the people." This comment spawned a new model, in which, summarizes Bertrand Russell, "[r]eligion in any shape or form is regarded as a pernicious and deliberate falsehood, spread and encouraged by rulers and clerics in their own interests, since it is easier to exercise control over the ignorant."<ref>Wisdom of the West, ISBN 0-517-69041-1</ref> Furthermore, the "Theory of Religion Model" states that religion arose from some psychological or moral pathology in religious leaders and believers. Another theory states that spirit-based religions found in many indigenous tribes may originate in dreams. A dead person seen in a dream is, in some sense, not really dead, and so may be able to do good or harm. Some anthropologists see in this the origin of a belief in ghosts and in those religions in which ancestors are worshiped.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Religions as progressively true

In contrast to the some other models, this category of models see religion as "progressively true." Within these models, religions reflect an essential Truth. The development of religion is therefore the course of religions aligning themselves more completely with the Truth, as the benefits of the teachings of each religion take effect within the development of humanity across time and place, as well as dealing with drifts of the religions from their founding principles or standing in need of elaborating the same essential truth in a new specific way - but all in relation to the same mysterious God, that is that this progression is divinely based or directed, rather than simply the occurrence of good people in history.

Models which view religion as progressively true include the Bahá'í model of prophetic revelation, which holds that God has sent a series of prophets to Earth, each of which brought teachings appropriate for his culture and context, but all originating from the same God, and therefore teaching the same essential message. While religious truth is seen as being relative due to its varied cultural and developmental expression, this model accepts that the underlying essential truth being expressed is absolutely true, if incompletely and progressively presented. The A Study of History Model holds that prophets are given to extraordinary spiritual insight during periods of social decay and act as "surveyors of the course of secular civilization who report breaks in the road and breakdowns in the traffic, and plot a new spiritual course which will avoid those pitfalls."

Another model, the Great Awakening Model, states that religion proceeds along a Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, synthesis, in cycles of approximately 80 years as a result of the interaction between four archetypal generations, by which old religious beliefs (the thesis) face new challenges for which they are unprepared (the antithesis) and adapt to create new and more sophisticated beliefs (the synthesis).

To a lesser degree this "progression in religion" is true within most of the religions - Judaism accepts a series of Prophets progressively leading the Jews, from Abraham to Moses, and further to Malachi. Christianity accepts the same and adds Jesus. Islam accepts those of Judaism and Christianity and adds Muhammad. The Bahá'í Faith accepts all of the same, but adds the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh as modern Prophets, at the same time acknowledging the divine origin of Krishna, Buddha, and Zoroaster. Hinduism identifies a series of Avatars from Brahma through to Krishna. Buddhism adds to the list of Avatars, calling them Buddhas. Zoroastrianism also delineates earlier Saoshyants, who came progressively leading the people forward. There are other examples.

[edit] Religions as absolutely true

Other models see religion as absolutely and unchangingly true. They contrast with both the first group of models (which hold religion to be false), and the second group (which hold religion to develop over time). Models which view a particular religion as absolutely true include the Jewish and Christian model which holds that God relates to humanity through covenants; that he established a covenant with all humanity at the time of Noah called the Noahide Laws, and that he established a covenant with Israel through the Ten Commandments, and also Jesus Christ did establish a covenant with his people through the New Testament. Exclusivist Models hold that one particular set of religious doctrines is the "One True Religion," and all others are false, so that the development of the True Religion is tied inexorably to one prophet or holy book. In this model, all other religions are seen as either distortions of the original truth or original fabrications resulting from either human ignorance or imagination, or a more devious influence, such as false prophets or the influence of another rival supernatural entity (such as Satan). The model of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is nuanced differently than either the progressively true model or the absolutely true model, in that its leaders have taught that foreordination included plans by God that prophets as well as other good men and women (for example, Muhammad, Confucius, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, the Founding Fathers of the United States and Gandhi) would be inspired by God during the course of human history who would bring much light, truth and knowledge though not necessarily a fullness of truth to their particular societies. <ref>Smith, Joseph F., Gospel Doctrine, 1919, Chapter 22.;Top, Brent L., Life Before, 1988, Chapter 7</ref><ref> To the question of why God would inspire Muhammad with one set of doctrines and Joseph Smith with another, Mormonism answers that God answers specific questions that are asked of Him in prayer or meditation, but only according to the faith, intent, desire, and particular understanding of the person, who may mix inspired truths with their own views unless they receive full prophetic revelation. Mormonism posits that each mortal person has the God-given right to receive knowledge of truth "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28:13), as they ask for it or ponder it in their hearts.</ref>

[edit] Demographics

Dominant world religions, mapped by country.
Buddhist monk Geshe Konchog Wangdu reads Mahayana sutras from an old woodblock copy of the Tibetan Kanjur.

[edit] Present day adherents

The following statistics show the number of adherents in all known approaches, both religious and irreligious worldwide. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are the largest world religions today. Approximately 75% of humanity follows one of these four religions. Christianity is the religion with the largest number of professed religious adherents, followed by Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism respectively. However, the third-largest "group" of approximately 1 billion people adhere to irreligious approaches which include Humanism, Atheism, Rationalism, and Agnosticism. These figures are necessarily approximate: note that the figures in the following table total nearly 7 billion people, yet the world population was only 6.4 billion (2005),<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> and a person can be an adherent of more than one religion.

  1. Christianity 2.1 billion
  2. Islam 1.3 billion
  3. Secular/Atheist/Irreligious/Agnostic/Nontheist 1.1 billion
  4. Hinduism 900 million
  5. Chinese folk religion 394 million
  6. Buddhism 376 million
  7. Primal indigenous ("Pagan") 300 million
  8. African traditional and diasporic 100 million
  9. Sikhism 23 million
  10. Juche 19 million
  11. Spiritism 15 million
  12. Judaism 14 million
  13. Bahá'í Faith 7 million
  14. Jainism 4.2 million
  15. Shinto 4 million (see below)
  16. Cao Dai 4 million
  17. Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
  18. Tenrikyo 2 million
  19. Neo-Paganism 1 million
  20. Unitarian Universalism 800,000
  21. Rastafari movement 600,000
  • Christianity encompasses many different denominations but the statistics in the source for this document consider most of them all together for the purposes of analysis (except Unitarians and Rastafarians).
  • Shinto is a special case due to shrine-reporting versus self-reporting. Since the 17th century, there have been laws in Japan requiring registration with Shinto shrines. Because of this, 75-90% of all Japanese are listed on shrine rolls, greatly inflating the apparent number of adherents. When asked in polls, only about 3.3% of Japanese people identify themselves as "Shinto."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> However, many who do not consider themselves "Shintoists" still practice Shinto rituals.

In ranking religious denominations, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest single denomination within Christianity, Sunni Islam within Islam, and Vaishnavism within Hinduism. It is difficult to say whether there are more Roman Catholics or Sunnis, as the numbers are roughly equal, and exact counts are impossible, because some members though legally accepted in those denominations may have renounced their faith or have converted quickly.

[edit] Trends in adherence

Image:Religion importance.PNG
World map based on the results of a 2002 Pew Research Center study on the importance of religion.
The largest religious gathering of humans on Earth [1]. About 70 million Hindus from around the world participated in Kumbh Mela in the Hindu holy city of Prayaga, India, which is also known as Allahabad.

Since the late 19th century, the demographics of religion have changed a great deal. Some countries with a historically large Christian population have experienced a significant decline in the numbers of professed active Christians. Symptoms of the decline in active participation in Christian religious life include declining recruitment for the priesthood and monastic life, as well as diminishing attendance at church. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of people who identify themselves as secular humanists. In many countries, such as the People's Republic of China, communist governments have discouraged religion, making it difficult to count the actual number of believers. However, after the collapse of communism in numerous countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Eastern Orthodox Christianity has been experiencing considerable resurgence there.

Within the world's four largest religions Christianity currently has the greatest growth by numbers and Islam has the fastest growth by percentage.<ref name="worldchristianencyclopedia">Barrett, David A. (2001). World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 4.</ref> Christianity is spreading rapidly in northern Africa and the Far East, in particular China and South Korea. Hinduism is undergoing a revival, and many temples are being built, both in India and in other countries. Analyzing percentage growth is a difficult matter - see this article for a discussion. However, the World Christian Encyclopedia and World Christian Trends reported these numbers from growth from 1990-2000<ref name="worldchristianencyclopedia" /><ref>Template:Cite web</ref>:

(the annual growth in the world population over the same period is 1.41%)

A 2002 Pew Research Center study found that, generally, poorer nations had a larger proportion of citizens who found religion to be very important than richer nations, with the exception of the United States.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

See also: Major religious groups, Claims to be the fastest growing religion, Religion by country

[edit] Religious belief

Main article: Religious belief

Religious belief usually relates to the existence, nature and worship of a deity or deities and divine involvement in the universe and human life. Alternately, it may also relate to values and practices transmitted by a spiritual leader. Unlike other belief systems, which may be passed on orally, religious belief tends to be codified. Religious beliefs are found in virtually every society throughout human history.

[edit] Related forms of thought

[edit] Religion and science

Religious knowledge, according to religious practitioners, may be gained from religious leaders, sacred texts (scriptures), and/or personal revelation. Some religions view such knowledge as unlimited in scope and suitable to answer any question; others see religious knowledge as playing a more restricted role, often as a complement to knowledge gained through physical observation. Some religious people maintain that religious knowledge obtained in this way is absolute and infallible (religious cosmology). While almost unlimited, this knowledge can be unreliable, since the particulars of religious knowledge vary from religion to religion, from sect to sect, and often from individual to individual.

Image:God the Geometer.jpg
Early science such as geometry and astronomy was connected to the divine for most medieval scholars. The compass in this 13th Century manuscript is a symbol of God's act of creation.

The scientific method gains knowledge by testing hypotheses to develop theories through elucidation of facts or evalution by experiments and thus only answers cosmological questions about the physical universe. It develops theories of the world which best fit physically observed evidence. All scientific knowledge is probabilistic and subject to later improvement or revision in the face of better evidence. Scientific theories that have an overwhelming preponderance of favorable evidence are often treated as facts (such as the theory of gravity).

Many early scientists held strong religious beliefs (see Scientists of Faith and List of Christian thinkers in science) and strove to reconcile science and religion. Isaac Newton, for example, believed that gravity caused the planets to revolve about the Sun, and credited God with the design. In the concluding General Scholium to the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, he wrote: "This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being." Nevertheless, conflict arose between religious organizations and individuals who propagated scientific theories which were deemed unacceptable by the organizations. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has historically reserved to itself the right to decide which scientific theories are acceptable and which are unacceptable. In the 17th century, Galileo was tried and forced to recant the heliocentric theory.

Many theories exist as to why religions sometimes seem to conflict with scientific knowledge. In the case of Christianity, a relevant factor may be that it was among Christians that science in the modern sense was developed. Unlike other religious groups, as early as the 17th century the Christian churches had to deal directly with this new way to investigate nature and seek truth. The perceived conflict between science and Christianity may also be partially explained by a literal interpretation of the Bible adhered to by many Christians, both currently and historically. This way to read the sacred texts became especially prevalent after the rise of the Protestant reformation, with its emphasis on the Bible as the only authoritative source concerning the ultimate reality.<ref>Stanley Jaki. Bible and Science, Christendom Press, 1996 (pages 110-111)</ref> This view is often shunned by both religious leaders (who regard literally believing it as petty and look for greater meaning instead) and scientists who regard it as an impossibility.

Some Christians have disagreed or are still disagreeing with scientists in areas such as the validity of Keplerian astronomy, the theory of evolution, the method of creation of the universe and the Earth, and the origins of life. On the other hand, scholars such as Stanley Jaki have suggested that Christianity and its particular worldview was a crucial factor for the emergence of modern science. In fact, most today's historians are moving away from the view of the relationship between Christianity and science as one of "conflict", a perspective commonly called the conflict thesis (or the Draper-White thesis). Gary Ferngren in his historical volume about Science & Religion states:

While some historians had always regarded the Draper-White thesis as oversimplifying and distorting a complex relationship, in the late twentieth century it underwent a more systematic reevaluation. The result is the growing recognition among historians of science that the relationship of religion and science has been much more positive than is sometimes thought. Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule.<ref>Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8018-7038-0. (Introduction, p. ix)</ref>

In the Bahá'í Faith, the harmony of science and religion is a central tenet.<ref name="esslemont">Esslemont, J.E. (1980). Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, 5th ed., Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-160-4.</ref> The principle states that that truth is one, and therefore true science and true religion must be in harmony, thus rejecting the view that science and religion are in conflict.<ref name="esslemont" /> `Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, asserted that science and religion cannot be opposed because they are aspects of the same truth; he also affirmed that reasoning powers are required to understand the truths of religion and that religious teachings which are at variance with science should not be accepted; he explained that religion has to be reasonable since God endowed humankind with reason so that they can discover truth.<ref name="pup">`Abdu'l-Bahá [1912] (1982). The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Hardcover, Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-172-8.</ref> Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, described science and religion as "the two most potent forces in human life."<ref name="wob">Effendi, Shoghi (1938). The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-231-7.</ref>

Proponents of Hinduism claim that Hinduism is not afraid of scientific explorations, nor of the technological progress of mankind. According to them, there is a comprehensive scope and opportunity for Hinduism to mold itself according to the demands and aspirations of the modern world; it has the ability to align itself with both science and spiritualism. This religion uses some modern examples to explain its ancient theories and reinforce its own beliefs. For example, some Hindu thinkers have used the terminology of quantum physics to explain some basic concepts of Hinduism such as Maya or the illusory and impermanent nature of our existence.

The philosophical approach known as pragmatism, as propounded by the American philosopher William James, has been used to reconcile scientific with religious knowledge. Pragmatism, simplistically, holds that the truth of a set of beliefs can be indicated by its usefulness in helping people cope with a particular context of life. Thus, the fact that scientific beliefs are useful in predicting observations in the physical world can indicate a certain truth for scientific theories; the fact that religious beliefs can be useful in helping people cope with difficult emotions or moral decisions can indicate a certain truth for those beliefs. (For a similar postmodern view, see grand narrative).

[edit] Religion, metaphysics, and cosmology

Religion and philosophy meet in several areas, notably in the study of metaphysics and cosmology. In particular, a distinct set of religious beliefs will often entail a specific metaphysics and cosmology. That is, a religion will generally have answers to metaphysical and cosmological questions about the nature of being, of the universe, humanity, and the divine.

[edit] Mysticism and esotericism

Mysticism, in contrast with philosophy and metaphysics, denies that logic is the most important method of gaining enlightenment. Rather, physical disciplines such as yoga, stringent fasting, whirling (in the case of the Sufi dervishes), or the use of Psychoactive drugs such as LSD, lead to higher states of consciousness that logic can never hope to grasp.

Mysticism ("to conceal") is the pursuit of communion with, or conscious awareness of ultimate reality, the divine, spiritual truth, or God through direct, personal experience (intuition or insight) rather than rational thought. Mystics speak of the existence of realities behind external perception or intellectual apprehension that are central to being and directly accessible through personal experience. They say that such experience is a genuine and important source of knowledge.

Esotericism claims to be more sophisticated than religion, to rely on intellectual understanding rather than faith, and to improve on philosophy in its emphasis on techniques of psycho-spiritual transformation (esoteric cosmology). Esotericism refers to "hidden" knowledge available only to the advanced, privileged, or initiated, as opposed to exoteric knowledge, which is public. It applies especially to spiritual practices. The mystery religions of ancient Greece are examples of Esotericism.

[edit] Spirituality

Main article: Spirituality

Members of an organized religion may not see any significant difference between religion and spirituality. Or they may see a distinction between the mundane, earthly aspects of their religion and its spiritual dimension.

Some individuals draw a strong distinction between religion and spirituality. They may see spirituality as a belief in ideas of religious significance (such as God, the Soul, or Heaven), but not feel bound to the bureaucratic structure and creeds of a particular organized religion. They choose the term spirituality rather than religion to describe their form of belief, perhaps reflecting a disillusionment with organized religion (see Religion in modernity), and a movement towards a more "modern" — more tolerant, and more intuitive — form of religion. These individuals may reject organized religion because of historical acts by religious organizations, such as Islamic terrorism, the marginalisation and persecution of various minorities or the Spanish Inquisition.

[edit] Myth

Main article: Mythology

The word myth has several meanings:

  1. A traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon;
  2. A person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence.
  3. A metaphor for the spiritual potentiality in the human being <ref>Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p22 ISBN 0-385-24774-5</ref>

Ancient polytheistic religions, such as those of Greece, Rome, and Scandinavia, are categorized under the heading of mythology. Religions of pre-industrial peoples, or cultures in development, are similarly called myths in the anthropology of religion. The term "myth" can be used pejoratively by both religious and non-religious people. But by defining another person's religious stories and beliefs as mythology, one implies that they are less real or true than one's own religious stories and beliefs. Joseph Campbell often made the statement "Mythology is popularly defined as 'other peoples' religions'...but actually religion is misinterpreted mythology".

Humanists believe that all religion is based on myth.

The term myth in sociology, however, has a non-pejorative meaning. There, myth is defined as stories that are important for the group whether or not it is objectively or provably true. Examples include the death and resurrection of Jesus, which, to Christians, explains the means by which they are freed from sin, as well as being ostensibly a historical event. But from a mythological outlook, whether or not a death and resurrection actually occurred or not is unimportant. Instead, the symbolism of a death to an old "life" and the start of a new "life" is more important than the religious dogma of the actual historical authenticity.

[edit] Cosmology

Humans have many different methods which attempt to answer fundamental questions about the nature of the universe and our place in it (cosmology). What is reality? How can we know? Who are we? Why we are here? How should we live? What happens after we die? Religion is only one of the methods for trying to answer one or more of these questions. Other methods include science, philosophy, metaphysics, astrology, esotericism, mysticism, and forms of shamanism, such as the sacred consumption of ayahuasca among Peruvian Amazonia's Urarina. The Urarina have an elaborate animistic cosmological system<ref>Bartholomew Dean 1994 "The Poetics of Creation: Urarina Cosmology and Historical Consciousness." Latin American Indian Literatures Journal (10):22-45</ref>, which informs their mythology, religious orientation and daily existence.

Given the generalized discontents with modernity, consumerism, over-consumption, violence and anomie, many people in the so-called industrial or post-industrial West rely on a number of distinctive religious worldviews. This in turn has given rise to increased religious pluralism, as well as to what are commonly known in the academic literature as new religious movements, which are gaining ground across the globe.

[edit] Etymology

The etymology of the word "religion" has been debated for centuries. The English word clearly derives from the Latin religio, "reverence (for the gods)" or "conscientiousness". The origins of religio, however, are obscure. Proposed etymological interpretations include:

[edit] From Relego

  • Re-reading–from Latin re (again) + lego (in the sense of "read"), referring to the repetition of scripture.
  • Treating carefully–from Latin re (again) + lego (in the sense of "choose"–this was the interpretation of Cicero) "go over again" or "consider carefully".

[edit] From Religare

  • Re-connection to the divine–from Latin re (again) + ligare (to connect, as in English ligament). This interpretation is favoured by modern scholars such as Tom Harpur, but was made prominent by St. Augustine, following the interpretation of Lactantius.
  • To bind or return to bondage–an alternate interpretation of the "reconnection" etymology emphasizing a sense of servitude to God, this may have originated with Augustine. However, the interpretation, while popular with critics of religion, is often considered imprecise and possibly offensive to followers.

[edit] From Res + legere

  • Concerning a gathering — from Latin res (ablative re, with regard to) + legere (to gather), since organized religion revolves around a gathering of people.

[edit] See also

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