What Is Religion?

Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, values and practices that organizes a community’s life. It creates moral and aesthetic categories of ‘the sacred’ and ‘the profane’, which help to make sense of the world and to establish a coherent identity. Its ‘rites and rituals’ are the enacted language through which human hopes and fears are articulated and dealt with. In this way it makes a significant contribution to the meaning and value of a person’s biography.

Religious belief and practice are complex, and it is difficult to define them. There is a broad range of different academic approaches to the study of religion, such as anthropological, phenomenological, psychological and sociological. Some scholars use a functional definition of religion, arguing that it is a social genus that appears in all societies. Others take a more traditional approach, claiming that religion is a category that can be defined in terms of its defining properties or its prototype structure.

Religions provide people with means to attain their most important goals in life. Some of these goals are proximate, and have to do with making this life a little easier (for example, through a wiser, more generous or successful way of living); others are ultimate, and have to do with the final condition of this or any other human person, and of the universe itself. These goals are pursued fervently, scrupulously, sacrificially, puritanically, and ritually. It is important to remember that all religions are human constructions, and they all have their own problems and pitfalls.

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