What Is Religion?


Religion is a large and disputed set of beliefs and practices that people organize into faiths. It includes a belief in a supernatural world and a set of relationships that believers cultivate with themselves, other believers, outsiders, and the spiritual universe. Religion also typically encompasses a range of rituals and other traditions that are codified in scripture, prayer, and religious law. Many believe that humankind created religion because of a need to address basic questions such as the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of humanity’s relationship with the supernatural world, and what happens after death. Other scholars, especially anthropologists and sociologists, have proposed different theories of the origins of religion.

Despite these differences, most sociologists and anthropologists agree that the concept of religion encompasses a vast range of human beliefs and activities. Because of this, some scholars have criticized the idea that the word religion names a distinct social category. These critics have argued that it is a mistake to use the term religion to refer to a collection of beliefs and practices because it obscures the rich diversity of these beliefs and practices.

Other critics have gone further, proposing that the notion of religion is simply an artificial construct designed to serve the needs of modern European colonialism. Using this argument, they have urged scholars to stop treating the word religion as if it has any necessary or sufficient properties and to instead consider it as a family-resemblance concept rather than a thing.