Religion is a set of beliefs and practices that believers believe help them have meaningful lives. It includes a belief in a higher power, rituals, and social support networks. It is also believed that there are important moral teachings about how people should treat their fellow humans. Most religions emphasize doing good for others, which leads to participation in things like charity organizations. Some religions also have a more regimented schedule, from worship services to prayers multiple times a day.
Some scholars believe that to understand what religion is one must understand how people experience it. Others think that the concept of religion can be defined in various ways and that it is better to focus on the institutions and disciplinary practices of religious life rather than on mental states. For example, it is possible to correct a real or lexical definition of the term “religion,” such as ice-skating while singing (see also stipulative definition), but not a phenomenological or other subjective description of what religion means to the individual experiencing it.
Emile Durkheim’s work on the functions of religion continues to influence sociological thinking about this topic. One of his most important insights was that religion strengthens social stability and moral behavior. It teaches people what behaviors are moral, and it gives them a shared set of beliefs that they can use to control their own behavior. In addition, the social activity of attending religious services brings people together physically and facilitates communication and other forms of socialization.