What Is Religion?


Religion is a belief system with a core narrative about the world and its creation. It often includes a concept of salvation, whether literally through a heaven after death or more symbolically through ending suffering in nirvana. It usually involves sacred rites or rituals, holy books, a priesthood and clergy to administer the religion, a sacred place and other objects, and it has a central deity or group of gods. Almost all religions have a code of ethics, as well.

The word religion comes from the Latin root religio, which means “to bind.” It is one of the most widely held beliefs in the world, with millions of people identifying with Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism and other religions. The term is used in various ways, but most scholars agree that it refers to a system of faiths with shared beliefs, practices and values.

One view is that religion has a social function of creating solidarity among believers. This is the perspective of Émile Durkheim, who developed a theory of social religion. He believed that religion creates a sense of community and helps to stabilize society.

Another view of religion is that it provides consolation to people who are experiencing psychological or physical distress. This is the perspective of Karl Marx, who described religion as “the sigh of an oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”

Some anthropologists take a functionalist approach to religious study. They define religion as the totality of a culture’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviors related to a supreme being or supernatural power. Other anthropologists, such as Clifford Geertz, argue that religion is more than just a set of feelings or beliefs; it is the way people organize those beliefs, emotions and behaviors into a coherent whole.

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