Religion is the cultural system of behaviors, practices and ethics that are shared by a group of people. In addition to providing structure and tradition, religion has been linked to positive effects on emotional well-being, such as reducing anxiety, tension and emotion variability.
The meaning of religion has shifted over time and this has caused some scholars to question whether the term is useful at all. They argue that the fact that different definitions count some things as religion and others as not is evidence that religion is a political concept invented by certain people for their own purposes and then used to impose their ideas on other cultures.
Traditionally, there have been two types of approaches to defining the concept religion: substantive and functional.
A “substantive” approach to religion has defined it in terms of the presence of a distinctive kind of reality. For example, Emile Durkheim (1912) defines religion as whatever system of practices unite a number of people into a moral community (whether or not those practices involve belief in any unusual realities).
Another substantive approach is that of Alfred North Whitehead, who in 1926 defined religion as the human activity of seeking to organize and regulate one’s own feelings and desires through a commitment to an object. He also pointed out that it is an affective state, not a cognitive one.
This view is controversial among a number of social scientists and some philosophers, who point out that if an affective state can be noncognitive but still identifiable as a particular feeling, it should not count as religion. Nonetheless, the idea of an affective definition of religion has been influential in the philosophy of religion and in many philosophical discussions of religion.