The Definition of Religion


Religion is one of the most difficult subjects to discuss. There are many different beliefs about God and what happens after death. Some of these beliefs are based on a variety of ancient traditions, while others are more modern. Regardless of the age or origin, most of these belief systems are similar in some ways and have common features such as prayer, worship, and the belief that there is a higher power.

The definition of Religion is a source of much controversy. Some scholars treat it as a social genus and define it functionally as the set of beliefs and practices that generates social cohesion or provides orientation in life. This approach is often referred to as polythetic, and it may be helpful in exploring patterns of behaviors among religions and in making comparisons. However, it is important to remember that religion is not universal and that a polythetic approach can be misleading.

The problem with most substantive definitions of religion is that they are too broad and include a variety of beliefs and activities that most people do not regard as religious. For example, they might include a belief in fate or magic. Other examples are belief in UFOs or a belief that there is a spirit world. In addition, such a definition would exclude most atheists and agnostics. As a result, it is often better to avoid stipulative definitions and to focus on understanding how religion works in the context of individual cultures.