An Anchored Definition of Religion


Religion is a cultural system of behaviors, practices and ethics that involves belief in a supernatural or spiritual dimension or greater reality.

The term religion has been used by philosophers and theologians to describe the various ways that people in a particular culture think about their own lives and about the world around them. But it is not always easy to pin down exactly what constitutes religion and to distinguish it from magic and from cults and sects.

This has led to a number of different definitions of religion, all of which have varying degrees of ambiguity and inaccuracy. The most common of these is the three-sided model that describes religion as having the following characteristics: a) worship, b) moral conduct, and c) right belief.

Besides those features, religious life also has a material dimension, which includes bodies and their habits as well as the physical culture and social structures of the religious group. In this way, religion becomes a more complex and layered form of life than the three-sided model suggests.

As a result, scholars of religion have been trying to offer an anchored definition of religion that would capture a more defined range of cases and to differentiate it from other forms of life with similar traits.

One such anchored definition is that of Abraham Lincoln, who says that to be a religion, a form of life must have the following four properties: a) a distinctive discourse that claims transcendent status for itself; b) an organized community or social group; c) an institutional structure to manage the people in the social group; and d) a cosmology involving a god and/or gods.

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