What Is Religion?


Religion is the set of beliefs, values and practices a person holds sacred or considers spiritually significant. It is a cultural phenomenon that often serves as a source of comfort and hope in times of crisis or uncertainty, such as the COVID-19 pandemic that began in March 2020. But it is also a source of confusion and conflict, such as when religious leaders teach sexism or impose strict moral codes that conflict with prevailing scientific research.

Many scholars have defined religion in terms of belief in a particular kind of reality, a view known as a “substantive” definition. This approach has been criticized for being too broad and for failing to include non-theistic religions such as Buddhism and Jainism. Others have taken a functional approach and defined it as whatever beliefs and practices generate social solidarity or provide orientation in life. A version of this approach is exemplified by Emile Durkheim, who describes religion as whatever system of practices unites people into one moral community and plays the role of organizing their values (whether or not these practices involve belief in unusual realities).

Still other scholars have pulled back to examine the very concept of religion, seeing that it is a social construct with shifting boundaries and recognizing that there is no such thing as a neutral, empirical definition of religion. In addition to these philosophical debates, researchers have used statistical analysis and survey data to assess the impact of religion in societies around the world, and have found that it plays a positive role in family stability, the health of society’s youth, the preservation of intellectual freedoms and the protection of democratic processes.

Posted in: Gambling