What Is Religion?


Religion is man’s relation to that which he regards as holy, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. It is a system of beliefs and practices that binds people into a community and gives them a common ground for dealing with ultimate concerns, such as death, reincarnation, karma, morality, justice, and the nature of God. In some traditions, this is expressed in terms of relations and attitudes toward gods or spirits; in more humanistic and naturalistic traditions, it is often expressed in terms of one’s relations and attitude toward the broader human or natural world.

While it is difficult to define, religion seems to be a universal experience and need. Most of the 6.5 billion people on Earth participate in some form of religion. Moreover, there is evidence that practicing religion brings benefits to individuals and society. It improves health, learning, economic well-being, self-control and self-esteem, and enhances social cohesion.

The anthropologist Clifford Geertz defined religion as “a set of symbols that functions to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that they appear uniquely realistic” (Geertz 1973).

Other scholars have described the function of religion as disciplining barbaric anarchy, teaching reverence and obedience, and serving as a source of work and leisure for primitive as well as civilized societies. They have also noted that it serves as a basis for philanthropy and the creation of social institutions such as hospitals, rest-houses, and temples.

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