What Is Religion?


Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, practices and values that provides a moral foundation for behaviors and attitudes. It also can offer a sense of community and connection to tradition. In addition, research suggests that religious people are generally healthier than those who are not religious.

The intellectual basis of religion is faith, a conviction that there is a supernatural end to which man has been raised, and that it is attainable by means that have been Divinely appointed. This faith is not a result of the independent exercise of reason; in nearly all religions it is a product of authoritative teaching.

Religious practice also includes worship, a series of rituals that express religious belief and obedience. Worship may include prayers, meditation and observance of holy days. It may also include participation in social gatherings and community service activities.

Most religions have a set of rules and regulations (doctrines) that dictate how individuals should behave within a society and with one another. Abiding by these principles helps reduce the risk of negative emotions, like stress caused by marital discord or parenting problems, financial distress from unfair business practices, crime and other lawbreaking that can lead to incarceration, and venereal diseases from risky sexual behavior.

Religion is a complex phenomenon that can be difficult to define. It can be described as “the way in which a man walks” (Dean Willard Inge), as a unified system of beliefs and values relative to sacred things (Emile Durkheim) and as the ‘direction of the heart’ (Rainer Maria Rilke). Other descriptions try to capture its essential features: a feeling of absolute dependence upon a free, supranatural Being, and a determination to conform to the will of that Being; the apprehension of an immense power and wisdom; and the awe inspired by the contemplation of the greatness and perfection of God.