Religion is a broad term used to describe human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. It also includes the way people deal with ultimate concerns about their lives and their fate after death.
Religious beliefs and practices vary widely from society to society, and they change over time. These differences make it difficult to establish a common definition of religion that would apply to all studied cultures.
The study of religion is a scholarly discipline that emerged during the 19th century, when various methods and perspectives from anthropology, sociology, psychology, philology, literary criticism, and other fields were brought to bear on the subject. Despite this, no consensus has developed among scholars concerning the best way to approach the subject of religion.
Defined broadly as the beliefs and practices that unite people, religion is an essential part of the cultural identity of most societies. It can be a powerful source of social cohesion and provides an orientation in life, but it can also be a source of stress and conflict.
There are a variety of ways to define religion, from a “substantive” definition that determines membership in the category by the presence of a distinctive kind of reality, to a “functional” definition that assesses religion based on its role in one’s life, to a “polythetic” approach that tries to capture all the possible variations within a single concept.
The monothetic approach typically produces relatively clear lines between what is and is not religion, as it requires the presence of a single criterion. Functional definitions, however, can produce a great deal of confusion as they attempt to capture all the different types of beliefs and practices within a single concept.