Religion has been a key factor in human history and continues to shape many of the most important aspects of our lives today. But it can also be a source of tension and conflict, especially when it conflicts with the beliefs and practices of others.
The word “religion” originally meant scrupulous devotion to a god or spirits, and it has also been used to mean “the way of life of people who worship a god or spirits,” sometimes with the idea that one’s faith in a supernatural being was an expression of a “felt obligation.”
In the past, a wide variety of social practices were considered to be religions. For example, some of them were based on rituals and ceremonies, others on devotion to specific individuals or groups, and still others on a more abstract notion of the divine.
Over time, the range of what is now called “religion” has grown and shifted dramatically. It is now a taxon for sets of social practices, a genus-concept that is a paradigmatic example of the kind of cultural type that consists of several members (for instance, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism).
As a result, it is possible to distinguish two different types of answer to the question: What is the essence of religion?