Defining Religion


Religion has been a major influence on culture and society. It is reflected in art, literature, music, dress codes and ways of organising life together.

Religion gives people a sense of belonging and provides answers to important questions about life. It also helps them to deal with stress, anxiety and uncertainty.

The importance of religion varies by religious tradition. Roughly eight-in-ten or more Jehovah’s Witnesses (90%) and members of historically black Protestant churches (85%), Mormons (84%), and evangelical Protestants (79%) say that religion is very important in their lives.

Some sociologists define religion as any system of beliefs that helps social integration and establishes a collective conscience. They may or may not involve belief in supernatural beings.

Others argue that religion is a way of life. It consists of the behavioural and disciplinary practices that make up people’s religious experiences, including worship, moral conduct, right belief, and participation in institutions such as temples, mosques, churches, synagogues, and monasteries.

Defining religion in terms of its functions and beliefs can be a complex process. Sociologists have debated how to approach this subject.

One of the most common definitions has been the functional one developed by Emile Durkheim. He defined religion as “whatever system of beliefs unites a number of people into a single moral community”. This approach has faced a number of critiques, mainly for not defining it clearly enough.