What is Religion?

Religion is a social term describing the relationship people have with something they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine or worthy of especial reverence. It also often includes their concerns about life after death, especially in the form of heaven, hell, limbo or purgatory.

Religious practice is characterized by a variety of behaviors, practices and ethics, many of which are based on doctrinal beliefs about deity, authority, doctrine, salvation, morality, sexuality, family, life after death and human nature. Moreover, some forms of religious practice, such as worship, rituals, and confessions, are seen as important in shaping people’s attitudes toward the world.

Some scholars have attempted to define religion more precisely. Oxford Dictionaries defines religion as “the belief in and/or worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods”.

A more specific definition was given by Edward Burnett Tylor in 1871. He defined religion as “the belief in spiritual beings”, but argued that narrowing the definition to include beliefs in a supreme deity or judgment after death would exclude many people from the category of religious.

Other sociologists, such as Small and Vincent (1894), Ward (1898) and Ross (1901), defined religion as a function. They believed that religion acted as a substitute in the rational world for instinct in the subrational world, bringing some cognizance of society into the mind of the adherent.

The functionalist approach to religion, for example, arose in the works of Durkheim and O’Dea. The latter maintained that religion was a response – a reaction to an experience of ultimate reality, not merely a cognitive or affective reaction.

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