What Is Religion?


For decades, scholars have debated what exactly constitutes a religion. Some argued that the definition of religion is dependent on its purpose, while others argued that religion is an invented tool of certain groups for their own purposes, which they impose onto others. The social sciences and humanities have responded with reflexive arguments.

Distinctive characteristics

Religion refers to a belief in a supernatural Being who exists outside of the physical realm. It often draws from the teachings of historical or archetypal figures, and its practices are based on these beliefs. Although many people do not identify themselves as religious, others may consider themselves spiritual, based on their religious beliefs and practices. While religion can bring people together in times of conflict, it can also cause division. People have killed each other over their religious beliefs throughout history.

There are four main components to religion. Various religious traditions focus on one or more of these elements, which have important implications for human history. Some traditions emphasize the importance of sacred objects and stories, while others focus on living in the present. In either case, the elements of religious belief and practice have significant political consequences.

Cross-cultural variation

Religion plays many important functions in our lives. It can be comforting or frightening. Most researchers subscribe to Durkheim’s notion that religion acts as a “glue” between people. But some researchers question whether religion is truly the glue between people. They note that religious communes were far more enduring in 19th-century America than secular communes.

Despite this, religion is still very widespread, and this collection of articles aims to shed light on the phenomenon of cross-cultural variation in religion. The articles in this collection use a variety of methods to examine the ways that religions vary from culture to culture. They also identify key areas of further research.


One of the most important functions of religion is to cement social norms. Many religions promote procreation and the institution of marriage. This helps reinforce social order, and helps people behave ethically. For example, the Ten Commandments, which are part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, teach people to be good citizens.

Religion provides comfort and hope to billions of people. Many people, Durants notes, are deeply unhappy or suffering, and they are often comforted by their religious beliefs. “Supernatural comforts” provided by religion can help people fight off despair, he argues. Despite these obvious benefits, however, many of the functions of religion have been diminished over time. But despite their decline, religion continues to survive because of its ability to provide inspiration, brighten lives, and console the uncertain and poor.

Criteria for defining religion

There is a debate over what constitutes a religion. Some claim that religion is a system of beliefs, while others claim that it is an abstract concept. One group is in favor of a purely secular definition of religion, and the other is against a religiously based exemption to state regulations. Both groups cite the First Amendment, and both have been used to protect individuals from government action.

The debate over religion definitions has generated many attempts to find a proper definition. Many definitions are too superficial and fail to appreciate the depth and breadth of religious phenomena. There is a need to be very specific when defining religion.

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