The Definition of Religion

Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, practices and ethics. It may involve a belief in a supernatural power or in the transcendent. It is typically concerned with fundamental questions about life, death, and meaning in human existence. It is associated with moral codes, texts, buildings, artifacts and other objects. It is a social phenomenon and it is often correlated with other aspects of culture such as craft specialization, political hierarchy, type of property, and kin-based communities. Religion provides a compass for many people.

A definition of religion is difficult. Ordinary language usage is often ambiguous, contradictory and confusing. Philosophers have attempted to deal with this problem in a variety of ways.

One way is to attempt a substantive definition. This attempts to identify what is essential to the concept of religion. The problem with this is that it can be extremely difficult to identify what is essential.

Another approach is to take a functionalist view of the concept of religion. This takes a more pragmatic approach and identifies what role a religion can play in society. The problem with this is that it can also be extremely difficult to identify what is a function.

Some have taken a polythetic approach that tries to recognize as many properties as possible that may be common to a class of religions. The advantage of this is that it does not commit the mistake that monothetic approaches do of fastening to a single property as the essence of the concept.