What Is Religion?


Religion is a cultural system of beliefs and practices that define what is sacred or spiritual (Fasching and de Chant 2001; Durkheim 1915). Some form of religion appears in every known culture. It offers people a framework of meaning for their lives and an explanation of the world around them. Many philosophers have reflected on the nature of religion and its impact on society. Some, such as Xenophanes and the Greek Stoics, focused on ethical principles of morality; others, like Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Karl Marx considered the social causes of religion; and yet other philosophers, such as A.N. Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, and Simone de Beauvoir, focused on the experience of religiosity itself.

Although it is possible to develop a definition of religion, the fact that there are so many different religious traditions means that any tight definition will exclude some groups of believers. As a result, most scholars define religion by describing the activities and experiences that qualify as religious. These include a belief in supernatural beings and a desire to live forever, for a meaningful life, and to be reunited with a loving creator.

Religion is a powerful force in the lives of most people. It provides comfort, moral guidance, and a sense of purpose. It also addresses questions that science cannot answer, such as the origin of the universe and human life. Moreover, research shows that religion improves health, learning, economic well-being, self-control, and empathy.