Religion is a broad concept that encompasses many diverse beliefs and practices. In general, it involves a group’s relationship with that which is considered holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, or divine, and the concerns that come with this relation. It can also involve a code of ethics and personal moral conduct. It is often associated with an afterlife and the supernatural, and it can also be a source of comfort in times of suffering.
Traditionally, scholars have defined religion in various ways, and the definitions differ both in what they include and in their purpose. Some take a substantive approach, like Emile Durkheim, who defines religion as whatever system of practices unite people into a moral community (whether or not the practices involve belief in unusual realities). Others use functional definitions, such as Paul Tillich, who defines religion as the dominant concern that organizes one’s values.
A few scholars have taken a more critical approach, and they have used the concept of religion as part of their critique of modernity. These scholars argue that, since social structures have existed without being conceptualized, the creation of a taxon to sort them out is a modern Western invention, and that the concept of religion has been used in ways that are harmful for other cultures. They argue that the stipulative definitions of religion fail to capture important aspects of religious life, and that it would be more productive to focus on structures and behaviors rather than mental states.