What Is Religion?


Religion is a set of beliefs and values that center around worshipping a higher power. It provides community, structure, moral guidance and hope to many people. While it’s possible to be a good, moral person without Religion, having this support system can make it easier to follow healthy behaviors and stay on track.

The word “religion” has several derivations, including the Latin religio, meaning “to carefully take in hand,” which reflects the idea of religious devotion. One of the most influential definitions comes from American anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who wrote that religion is a social genus that appears in many cultures and that its essential feature is “the setting into order of powerful, pervasive moods and motivations by means of formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that they appear to have real content.”

Although scholars have proposed many different approaches to defining Religion, they tend to fall into two categories: “substantive” and “functional.” Substantive definitions, like those offered by Cicero, Emile Durkheim, and Paul Tillich, define the category in terms of belief in a distinctive kind of reality. More recent work, however, has begun to move away from these approaches and toward a functional definition, such as the one offered by sociologist Victor H. Berger: religion is whatever practices unite a group of individuals into a moral community (whether or not these practices involve beliefs in unusual realities).

In addition, some scholars, such as sociologists Rodney Needham and J. Z. Smith, have argued that stipulative definitions force scholars to take a particular view of Religion even when that view is flawed. They argue that this approach is prone to anthropological bias, since it presupposes that all religions share certain traits.

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