What Is Religion?


Religion is a term for human beings’ relationship to that which they regard as sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. It may also refer to organized groups of believers who share certain beliefs and practices. Religions differ from other social institutions in that they usually evolve more slowly, and they often retain older features while incorporating new ones.

The word “religion” derives from the Latin religio. Cicero (106BC-43BC) interpreted its meaning as’re-legere’ or “to read again”; other scholars have argued that it derives from the verb’religare’, which means to reconnect or bind with Divinity. In either case, it has to do with the re-establishment of man’s bond with the sacred.

Traditionally, scholars have analyzed the nature of religion by treating it as a monothetic set: a set of social forms that are all related in some way to a common concept. But it is now common for scholars to use a more polythetic approach and to treat religion as a complex rather than a single phenomenon.

The most widely used definition is that of the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1926-2006). It describes religion as “a system of symbols that acts to establish powerful, pervasive moods and motivations in men by clothing conceptions of a general order of existence with such an aura of factuality that they seem uniquely realistic.” Other scholars have criticized this definition on the grounds that it excludes important aspects of religious life and behavior, such as the moral values of faith.

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