What Is Religion?


Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, practices and ethics. It typically involves worship, moral conduct and participation in religious institutions. It can also include religious art, music and architecture. Some religions are concerned with mystical experiences and the afterlife, while others focus on social control or the promotion of morality and ethics.

The word religion is derived from the Latin religio, which roughly means “scrupulousness” or “devotion”. It is widely believed that it was first used to describe the belief in spiritual beings in a particular society.

Many scholars have debated how to define religion. Some, like Edward Burnett Tylor (1871-1910), argue that religion can be defined substantively as belief in the existence of a supreme being and judgment after death. Others, such as George Lincoln, prefer a functional definition that includes a community’s beliefs, rules and institutions. Lincoln argues that these must be used to organize people and create social groups. He says that if a community does not have these features it is not a religion.

Some anthropologists have suggested that religion evolved as the result of either a biological or a cultural need. These theorists have based their arguments on ethnographic research in tribal and primitive societies. They have argued that humans’ discovery of spirituality was a natural response to the fact that they would eventually die, and that their search for a way to avoid death or to go on to a better place led them to establish religious systems.