What Is Religion?


The word religion has such a wide and complicated range of meanings that it is hard to pin down. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that religion deals with beliefs about the supernatural or spiritual and with a code of moral behavior. It also usually has some organizational elements like worship, sacred rites and rituals, a holy book or scripture, and a clergy. It is also typically concerned with salvation — either in a literal sense, such as going to heaven after death, or in a symbolic sense, such as reaching an end to suffering (nirvana) as in some Eastern religions.

Some scholars who use a monothetic definition of religion – the belief in God and one other supreme being – argue that a number of different beliefs can fit this category as long as these four characteristics are met. However, other scholars who use a polythetic definition of religion argue that it is impossible to find a set number of characteristics that can be used as a threshold to determine whether or not something is considered a religion.

Some anthropologists believe that the term religion arose out of early human attempts to control uncontrollable aspects of their environment such as weather, fertility, or success in hunting. This could have been done through manipulation, such as magic, or by supplication, such as religion. They further suggest that a religion can be defined as a system of beliefs about invisible forces and the way they act on humans.

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