The Definition of Religion

Religion is the human being’s relation to that which he or she regards as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, and worthy of especial reverence. This relates not only to a transcendent god or spirit but also to social values, texts that are regarded as scriptures, and even people who are viewed as invested with spiritual or moral authority.

Like all other institutions, religious/spiritual practices and beliefs evolve over time within a particular culture or even across cultures. However, religions change more slowly than other institutions and often combine older features with new ones. Moreover, some social structures, such as state religions, may be more consciously organized with the use of full-time religious leaders and institutionalized doctrines.

Historically, attempts to define religion have been based on specific historical materials, and there is little doubt that these definitions are necessarily limited. In addition, an attempt to define religion in general terms can lead to a minimal notion that would rank different religions as members of the same genus, and this is clearly unsuitable for a discipline based on comparative study.

One of the most influential definitions of religion was crafted by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1926-2006). His definition differs from those used earlier, and focuses on the way religion establishes powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of life and clothing them with such an aura of factuality that these ideas seem uniquely realistic to individuals.

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