A Definition of Religion


Religion is a complex and powerful force that shapes human lives and social relationships. It addresses questions of how the world came into being, how and why humans are organised in the way they are, and what the purpose of life is.

Philosophy of religion, the discipline that combines all the main areas of philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, value theory, and so on) with religion, is a broad field with significant developments since the mid-twentieth century. It is practiced primarily in departments of philosophy and religious studies that are in the broadly analytic tradition, and its scope is expanding as more traditions outside the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) become the focus of important philosophical work.

A Definition of Religion

The most basic definition of religion is that it involves a belief in gods or other supernatural beings, and a shared set of beliefs, practices, and institutions. It also must have a distinctive kind of discourse that claims transcendent status for itself. In addition, it must have a robust communal, transmittable body of teachings and be able to establish boundaries within which those who follow the religion can practice their beliefs.

Its range has widened and shifted over the years to include many more types of practices, including the belief in the existence of non-material forces and entities. This has been especially true for theistic theories of religion.

Despite the wide variety of forms that religion takes, a common feature is the fact that it protects and transmits a wealth of information, including hopes, fears, conceptions, expectations, attitudes, behaviour, and so on. Most of this information is embodied in ritual. It is also expressed in language, art, and music.

The protection and transmission of this information requires organized systems, which religions necessarily are. They also require boundaries, both literal and metaphorical. When those boundaries are threatened, a number of people will respond with violence and defensiveness. This is the case both with physical invasions, as when the lands of a religious group are taken by foreigners, and with more symbolic threats, as when secular values and interests threaten to displace those of the religion.

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