What Is Religion?


Religion is human beings’ relation to that which they consider holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual or divine. In its broadest sense it may also include man’s ultimate concerns, such as his relationship with or attitude toward the broader human community or the natural world. It is often characterized by belief in immortality and a deeply felt need of God’s help and protection. It also includes a conviction that the forces of nature are mysterious and uncontrollable, leading to feelings of powerlessness and dependence on divine guidance for their proper use. In lower grades of culture, a belief in the existence of souls and spirits, and in their ability to influence and determine the destiny of men, is often present in religious thought.

Generally speaking, the practice of religion involves an organized system of beliefs and practices as well as an ideational component that enables the comprehensive expression and application of the valuation. As a cultus it usually involves the observance of sacred rites and customs, and as a philosophy or doctrine it usually entails a code of moral conduct and a system of values.

In recent times there has been a reflexive turn in the social sciences and humanities with scholars pulling back the camera, so to speak, to examine more closely the constructed nature of those objects that have long been taken for granted as unproblematically “there.” Despite this shift, it is still common to treat religion as a universal concept, sort of like “literature” or “democracy.” Yet such a view raises philosophical issues similar to those that confront the other abstract concepts used to sort cultural types.