What Is Religion?


Religion is the beliefs and practices that people hold about what they consider to be holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual or divine. Typically, it involves the way that they deal with ultimate concerns about their lives and what happens to them after death. Some of these concerns are expressed as concern with disembodied spirits or the cosmological order; others in terms of a relationship with and an attitude toward a broader human community or the natural world.

For many people, religion provides comfort and guidance in times of crisis and offers a moral framework that shapes their behaviors. It is also a source of social support and a means of connecting with tradition. Studies suggest that those who are religious may experience greater life expectancy and health benefits.

Historically, scholars have offered a variety of definitions of Religion. Some of them (like those of Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and Paul Tillich) have been “monothetic,” operating on the assumption that a concept has one defining property that sets it apart from other phenomena. Others have taken a “polythetic” approach, treating it as a category or family of concepts that can share similarities but are not identical.

It is not easy to pin down a definition of Religion that encompasses the vast array of cultural manifestations of this concept. But a few key traits seem to characterize the religions that most humans practice. These are:

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