How to Define Religion


Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices that gives its followers something sacred to believe in, a figure or group of figures to worship, and a set of rules about how to behave. It also provides a framework for dealing with life’s big questions, such as the meaning of life and what happens after death. It also gives people a sense of community. Throughout history, religion has played a major role in the development of culture and society. It has inspired art, music and literature, and it has been a source of social control, providing moral and ethical codes that influence everyday behaviour.

The concept of religion is controversial and there are many different theories about it. One of the key issues is how to define religion. Should a definition be broad, allowing for the inclusion of things that might not fit in any other category, or should it be narrow, aiming to establish what is definitely not religious? The answer to this question depends on how a particular theory of religion views the nature of the phenomenon.

For example, some sociologists take a formal approach to the definition of religion. They try to find a structure that is common to all known cases of religion. They then use that as a starting point for their analysis. Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1899) is a classic example. Other examples include Zeldin’s structuralism and Blasi’s functionalist model.

Other sociologists take a more descriptive approach. They look for secondary traits that might be found in all religions. They then try to explain why these traits are so common. This has led to a wide range of descriptive models. These models are based on the ideas of scholars such as Kidd, Small and Vincent, and Ward. They are sometimes used in conjunction with more formal definitions of religion, such as those of Cooley and Durkheim.

A final approach involves trying to establish what is genuinely religious by analyzing the experiences and concepts of its adherents. This can be done through interviews, observations and questionnaires. It aims to discover what motivates and inspires people to follow their religion. Those who have an empirical, experiential view of religion tend to be more conservative than those who take a more ideological or functional view.

Whatever approach is taken, all forms of religion are important to most societies. They help people to understand their lives, give them a purpose and value, and provide hope for the future. Despite its many critics, religion is still widely practiced in the world and it has made an imprint on culture and politics. It is an important part of the world’s heritage and must be valued. As such, religion deserves to be understood by everyone in society – from politicians and policy makers to scientists and the media. Religion Matters brings together the voices of different faith traditions and disciplines to address the complex global challenges of our time.