Is it at all appropriate to speak of "the" religion or "the religions"?
I'd like to plead for a modular conception of religions, not as homogeneous "things", but as a bundle of elements that are and were composed differently in different cultures and at different times.
These (core) elements/modules include (the list is not exhaustive):
1- Dealing/exchange with supernatural actors or entities (ancestors, spirits, gods, karma, dharma)
2- Myth (proto-scientific narrations that give explanations of the world)
6- emotionally charged symbols
7- Music and dance
8- Changed states of consciousness
9- notions of the hereafter
10- moral rules
12- Dichotomy sacred/profane
13- Dichotomy pure/impure
The following is important:
(a.) Not all of these modules occur in every religion.
(b.) Each of these modules can also be found in non-religious contexts, they can "migrate" to the realms of politics or art, so that the impression can arise that fascism or the cult around a star is "quasi-religious". The litmus test would be whether one ascribes supernatural abilities to the leader or the idolised star. Only if this is the case it could be called a genuinely religious phenomenon.