What Is Religion?


A wide variety of research studies show that people who practice Religion have a better quality of life than those who do not. Religion appears to help with learning, economic well-being, family stability, self-control, and empathy. It is also thought to reduce out-of-wedlock births, crime, and delinquency. It appears to lower the incidence of anxiety disorders and depression. And, for some individuals, religion appears to increase their longevity.

In general, religion is a unified system of thoughts and feelings that gives its followers something to believe in, someone or some spirit to worship, and a code of moral behavior. Most religions deal with what might be called the supernatural, about forces and powers that are beyond human control. In the earliest historical religions, such as those of Egypt and Mesopotamia, the belief system included hopes for immortality or life after death, a kind creator who would watch over humanity, and a sense that human life had a purpose. These ideas evolved into a belief in gods and goddesses.

More recently, the concept of religion has been broadened to include all kinds of spiritual beliefs and practices. This approach allows for a great diversity in beliefs, but it also raises questions about what is and is not religious. Whether religion is defined as all those things or narrowly as specific behaviors and beliefs, it is a powerful force in the lives of many millions of people.

How the term is defined determines how it is studied. For example, functionalists, like Durkheim, seek a way to group religious phenomena into a category that can be studied empirically. Substantive definitions, on the other hand, are based on the characteristics that distinguish the phenomenon from others.

While the exact nature of religion is debated, all religions share some features. Most religions have a concept of salvation, whether in the literal sense of going to heaven after death, as in Christianity, or in a more symbolic sense, such as finding peace and joy as a result of one’s actions, as in Buddhism. Most religions have sacred rituals and objects, sacred places, and a sacred community. They also have codes of moral behavior and a clergy or priesthood to lead them.

In addition, most religions teach some form of eternal life and the concept that good deeds will be rewarded and bad ones punished. Many religions also have prophets who offer messages of hope and warning.