What Is Religion?


Religion involves a system of beliefs, often codified in prayer, scripture, and ritual. It also includes moral codes that set the expectations for a believer’s relationship to himself, other believers, outsiders, and the supernatural world. It typically divides the universe into two comprehensive domains, one sacred and the other profane. It provides a source of moral/ethical, economic, and political reasoning. It engenders loyalty and solidarity among its members and contributes to the development of family life and social cohesion. It is a powerful source of inspiration, hope, and identity in the lives of many people around the world.

Sociologists have debated the nature of religion since the 19th century. Some scholars have rejected the idea that religion has a specific nature, while others have emphasized its function. Emile Durkheim’s work stressed the role that religion plays in society regardless of what particular religious beliefs a society favors, and this approach continues to be an important part of sociological thinking about religion today.

Other scholars have proposed more formal definitions of religion. Edward Tylor’s minimum definition, for example, specifies belief in spiritual beings; this is a substantive criterion that distinguishes religion from nonreligion. A more functional approach is exemplified by the work of Paul Tillich, who defines religion as whatever dominant concern organizes a person’s values. Such an approach resists a passive image of religion and may be helpful in identifying new forms of religiosity.

Posted in: Gembing