What Is Religion?


Religion is a large, multifaceted complex of beliefs, practices and experiences. It is difficult to define as a single thing, and different scholars have defined it in a variety of ways. One useful way is to look at it as a kind of valuation, and in particular the most intensive and comprehensive form of valuing that human beings experience. That definition makes it possible to distinguish it from other phenomena that are also valued but which may not be described as a religion.

This approach to religion is sometimes called a polythetic set. The idea is that any given religious phenomenon can be described in terms of a number of characteristics, and that each of these has the potential to explain a specific aspect of a religion. This method of describing a religion has the advantage that it can be used to describe all kinds of religions, even those which have not been historically recognized as such.

One of the important aspects that this approach describes is the way that religions give people a context within which they can experience a sense of security, and which provides the basis for socialization and other positive outcomes. For example, it can be seen that in many religions the practice of worship, including attendance at houses of worship, brings people together physically and helps them to communicate with each other, and is therefore a source of socialization. It is a very powerful means of fostering unity and stability in society, as Durkheim pointed out.

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