Religion refers to a wide range of beliefs and practices that are considered to be sacred or spiritually important. It is also thought to provide a sense of purpose and meaning to life, and to help people cope with pain and suffering. It is often associated with moral and ethical codes that govern behaviour. It can be a source of inspiration and encouragement, and may also be a driving force behind efforts to create social change.
It is common for scholars to use one of two broad approaches to defining religion: functional and substantive definitions. Functional definitions tend to be broader and more inclusive in their definitions of religion, but they are not without their problems. They can make it difficult to distinguish between different functions that religion may perform, and they can include movements that would be excluded under a narrower definition of religion such as communism or nationalism.
Substantive definitions tend to be more restrictive, but they are also difficult to apply in practice. They can exclude beliefs and practices that most people do not consider to be religious, such as belief in magic or UFOs. They can also be too broad and include movements that most people would not consider to be religions, such as atheism or agnosticism.
In the past, many scholars have used a formal approach to defining religion. This strategy involves attempting to identify a set of features that all religions have in common. For example, Lincoln defined religion as a response to ultimate reality that is based on feeling and not merely thinking, that binds people together into social groups, that has institutional structures to manage those groups, and that provides a sense of coherence or consistency to life.