Religions are a fundamental part of many people’s lives around the world. They shape the ethos of societies and they are a source of spiritual comfort, guidance, and moral structure. They also provide a sense of belonging to something larger than oneself. And, according to a large body of research, religious people are happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who do not follow any particular religion.
But no one can fully understand the human condition today without understanding religion. It is a vital component of global life and it does not seem that it will go away. Those who think that the modern world has done away with it are simply mistaken.
The term “religion” was originally a word describing the practice of putting oneself in God’s hands. Its meaning shifted over the years to include the belief in a god, as well as worship and devotional practices such as prayer and a holy text. It is now a social taxon that includes Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism.
The debate over whether a definition of “religion” can be agreed upon is one of the most important discussions in philosophy and theology. Most of the attempts to do so have been monothetic, that is, they have adopted the classical view that a social category can be accurately defined by its defining properties. A growing number of scholars, however, have been advocating polythetic approaches that recognize that religions may share many properties that make them “common” or “typical,” but they do not necessarily define the concept of religion.