Religion is one of the most important aspects of the human experience. It provides people with a sense of purpose, a moral code for living, and a community to belong to. Religion can also promote social cohesion and harmony, but it has been responsible for a great deal of hostility and violence as well. It is impossible to understand the world today without considering religion.
The word religion relates to a set of beliefs and practices that humans regard as sacred, absolute, spiritual, or divine. It is commonly seen as a way to cope with ultimate concerns such as life after death and the meaning of existence. In more traditional religious societies, these concerns are addressed in terms of a relationship to gods or spirits; in more humanistic and naturalistic religions they are addressed through a reverence for the larger natural world.
Traditionally, anthropologists have defined religion as a system of beliefs and rituals that establish powerful and pervasive moods and motivations in humans. These are created by formulating conceptions of a general order of things and clothing them with such an aura of factuality that they seem uniquely realistic. This definition is often called the Geertz paradigm.
In recent times, there has been a move among scholars to be reflexive about the concept of religion. This involves pulling back the camera and examining how the category of “religion” was constructed rather than taking it for granted as something that simply is. The resulting debate has revealed that there are different ways to define what a religion is.