What Is Religion?


Religion is a cultural system that provides people with a framework for morality, a worldview, a code of conduct, and rituals for their lives. It can bring individuals and groups together, but it can also cause stress by generating fear of those with different beliefs. It has been a source of peace and prosperity, but it has also led to persecution and war throughout history.

Substantive definitions of religion focus on beliefs, experiences, and practices that give people meaning in their lives and help them cope with life’s problems. While these definitions may be useful, they are often too narrow and ethnocentric. They ignore the fact that many faith traditions do not involve belief in supernatural beings or explicit metaphysics. They also exclude faiths such as Buddhism, Jainism — and in some cases Daoism (see Philosophy of Religion) — which are nontheistic.

More recent, sociological functional approaches to defining religion focus on its social functions such as creating solidarity. These definitions are influenced by Emile Durkheim, who defined religion as a unified set of beliefs and practices that unites people into a moral community.

Philosophers and theologians have long debated whether or not religion is a natural phenomenon. Some scholars, including Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), argued that it was a natural phenomenon based on the idea of an ultimate order of things. Others, such as Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), argued that it was an extra-natural phenomenon without any basis in reason or science.

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