What Is Religion?


Religion is a complex, diverse system of beliefs, values and practices concerning what people hold sacred or spiritually significant. It is also a way of living – a set of ways that people organize their lives, interact with others and deal with ultimate concerns. There are many different religions in the world, each with its own traditions, symbols, scriptures, myths, and rites. Some of the practices associated with religion include worship, prayer, sacrifice and a special way of viewing or interacting with the natural world. The beliefs of religion include a concept of the supernatural, moral codes and codes of behavior, an afterlife, a special place to meet with gods and spirits, and the idea that some individuals are invested with divine or holy powers.

Religion has a profound impact on the lives of most people, both individually and in society. It influences relationships with family and friends, how people behave toward their fellow human beings, and how they live in the world. Almost all religions emphasize doing good for others, often through charitable or welfare organizations.

Early in the development of sociology, three social theorists attempted to study religion and its relationship with society: Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx. Each had a different approach to the topic, and each produced theories that have influenced later scholars. Some scholars have used functional or verstehende (in German) definitions of religion – a view that sees it as the emergence and maintenance of belief systems which address ultimate questions.

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