What Is Religion?


Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, practices and values. It is often associated with sacred texts, symbols, and holy places, as well as a belief in an afterlife. It also includes a set of moral and ethical teachings and a sense of community and belonging.

Most definitions of religion treat it as a complex. It may seem avant garde today to describe a religion as a constellation, assemblage, network, or system, but such polythetic approaches are actually quite old. Christian theologians have long analyzed their way of life as simultaneously a matter of fides, fiducia, and fidelitas (faith, trust, and faithfulness).

Many religious systems offer explanations of events in this world and in the universe. They can provide hope, inspiration, and guidance to their followers. These explanations typically combine a mixture of scientific, philosophical, and supernatural elements. The roots of religions lie in primitive man’s recognition that the forces that shape his world are mysterious and beyond his control, and that he must call upon some powerful Deity for help in navigating those forces.

A number of social scientists have argued that religion serves many functions, most important among them being its ability to create solidarity within a society. Emile Durkheim, for example, viewed religion as a “glue” that holds societies together. Others have argued that religion is an important source of comfort in times of distress and fear. Still others have argued that religion provides a source of meaning and purpose for the individual.

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