What Is Religion?


Religion is a set of beliefs, practices, and rituals that people engage in for the purpose of obtaining meaning and value. It serves as a source of faith and morality, a framework in which people can organize their lives and understand their place in the world. It provides the basis for a society’s moral order and has provided answers to many important questions throughout history.

Religions are a complex social phenomenon that has shaped human societies and continues to influence them today. It is a phenomenon that can bring people together, but it can also promote division and conflict within communities and nations. It has been the cause of numerous wars and conflicts around the world, including those in central Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland.

The word “religion” is derived from the Latin term religio, which roughly means “scrupulousness” or “felt obligation.” It was adopted in western antiquity to designate a type of social group that worshipped different gods and committed itself to different religious traditions with commitments that sometimes were incompatible. In this way, religions could be rivals and could compete for power.

There are various ways to define religion, and scholars often use different approaches depending on the purpose for which they want to study it. One of the most common approaches is to consider religion as a taxon for sets of social practices, a genus that includes the so-called “world” religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism, along with those that have no name but which are common among a group of people or a geographic area.

Several theories of the origins and functions of religion have been developed over the centuries. One of the most influential was the 19th-century theory of sociology by Emile Durkheim, who treated religion as a system of totemism.

Sociologists such as Durkheim, Salomon Reinach, and Robertson Smith recognized that the social context of totemism and other rituals was important in determining their significance. They argued that totemism, in addition to being a form of worship, symbolized the social relationships that make up a clan or tribe.

The sociologists then argued that this relationship between the physical structure of a community and its social practices was necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the community’s life. They claimed that if this relationship was lost, the community’s life would eventually collapse, and thus, by extension, its religion.

Another version of the sociological theory of religion was based on Marxist philosophy, in which a class struggle led to the development of a set of doctrinal beliefs that have been called “religion.” The Marxists viewed the development of these philosophies as part of an effort to create a new social system by replacing the old, primarily class-based system with a communist system. They argued that the old system had not functioned because it had been based on a wrong understanding of the nature of reality.

Some modern anthropologists have also explored the role of religion in tribal or “primitive” societies. These scholars have tended to use this information to speculate about the genesis and functions of religions.