What Is Religion?

Religion is the set of practices that a person or group identifies as their most fundamental beliefs and rituals. It is also the way they respond to ultimate concerns, like their place in the universe, their relationship with the natural world, and what happens after death.

It is difficult to define the concept of religion. Historically, it has referred to scrupulous devotion or a sense of spirituality. But now, it encompasses such a vast range of practices that scholars often treat it as an abstract notion with no necessary and sufficient structure. Functional definitions sort out a family resemblance concept, but such approaches raise thorny questions about whether or not the term possesses an essence.

The most basic religious idea is that man is deeply dependent on a free, supernatural Being (or Beings) who controls the forces of nature for his weal or woe. This idea is liable to degenerate into polytheistic nature-worship, but it can be saved from such a fate by Divine Revelation.

Revelation, then, is essential to religion. It persuades a person that they can bring themselves into friendly, beneficent communion with the Deity. This, in turn, creates hope Рthe expectation that the Deity will fulfill his promises. As such, religion is inherently optimistic. Religion tries to give meaning to people’s lives, making them a little less unpredictable or overwhelming. In addition, religion imposes codes of recognition and behaviour that allow members to recognize friends or foes in potentially hostile environments.