What Is Religion?


Religion is a way people deal with ultimate concerns, such as what happens after death. It involves beliefs, practices, values, and experiences that help people make sense of their lives and find meaning in them. It also includes feelings and attitudes toward the broader human community and the natural world.

The term religion encompasses many diverse beliefs, values, and practices, ranging from monotheistic faith systems to indigenous spiritualities and humanist secularism. Some scholars have attempted to develop a substantive definition of religion, such as Emile Durkheim’s (1812) concept of “religion” as whatever system of beliefs and practices unite a group of people into a moral community (whether or not those beliefs involve belief in any unusual realities). Other scholars, such as Paul Tillich (1957), have taken a functional approach to the question, defining religion as whatever dominant concern serves to organize one’s values and provide orientation for life (whether or not that concern involves belief in any unusual realities).

As these different approaches have been developed, it has become clear that there is no single, satisfactory definition of religion. A number of important issues arise when attempting to sort the phenomenon into a taxon, notably the question whether one can define what is or is not a religion, and the question whether religious phenomena have any essence. The answer to both of these questions depends on the underlying philosophy.

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