Religion is the relationship people have with something that is holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. It may also be the way people deal with ultimate concerns about their lives and their fate after death.
Some scholars define religion as the belief in a supernatural controlling power, especially a personal God or gods (see Oxford Dictionaries’ definition). Others consider it more comprehensive, treating religion as the broader category of human relationships with and attitudes toward the world.
In many respects, these three approaches share the same problem: they are “substantive” definitions that determine membership in the category by whether or not a person has a belief in a distinctive kind of reality. They are ethnocentric and limiting, and they often fail to take into account faith traditions that emphasize immanence or oneness, like Buddhism and Hinduism.
Another approach, which has been popularized in the twentieth century by Clifford Geertz, is a “functional” definition that drops the substantive element and instead defines religion in terms of a distinctive role that a form of life can play in one’s life. This functional approach has been criticized for its tendency to neglect the significance of worldview.
In a similar way, a polythetic approach has been proposed that combines the four features of a monothetic definition with the threshold number of characteristics necessary for a class to be classified as a social genus. It has been argued that religion is a social genus because its members share certain properties, such as beliefs in supernatural beings and cosmological orders.