Religion is a broad concept, encompassing beliefs and practices that promote morality and social stability, support folkways and customs, provide paths for conflict resolution and soften penalties imposed by barbarian law, and inspire people to work for positive changes in their societies. Its defining features vary widely across cultures, from a single set of supernatural beliefs to an entire world view. It also encompasses ritualized observances, such as worship, prayer, meditation, and holy rites.
Among many definitions of religion, the most common is that which includes spiritual and supernatural beliefs along with the activities associated with them. This approach is known as the “Durkheimian Model.” It relies on the belief that certain beliefs and practices create community.
A second common definition of religion, which is based on functional categories, includes those dominant concerns that organize a person’s values and may or not involve belief in unusual realities. This is the definition most commonly used by psychologists and sociologists.
Some scholars object to these stipulative definitions of religion. They argue that they reflect Protestant bias and that it is time to shift attention away from subjective mental states to visible institutional structures that generate religion. This is referred to as the “structure/agency” debate. Another group argues that a purely structural explanation of religion is insufficient to address some religious phenomena, such as the sense of unity that religious communities create or the ability of religion to motivate people to act for good.