Religion encompasses beliefs, values and practices that people consider to be spiritually important. Its central tenet is that human beings believe in something supernatural—a creator, divine guidance or other spirit or a transcendent reality. Religious people typically also have a range of moral attitudes and behaviors.
The idea of religion is as old as humankind itself, but scholars have struggled to define it for their research. Some, like Durkheim, defined it functionally as the belief systems that generate social solidarity and promote consistent behavior. Others, such as Paul Tillich, defined it as whatever a person’s dominant concern serves to organize their values (whether or not those concerns involve belief in unusual realities).
One difficulty with any definition of religion is that it can be culturally specific and yet still be a universal concept. Thus, some scholars reject substantive definitions and treat the term as a social genus that is present in all cultures. However, this approach may lead to a skewed comprehension of religion in the sense that the notion is created for analytic purposes and may not accurately reflect the actual worldviews of believers.
Using the tools of sociology, researchers study religion to understand its impact on society and the culture. A variety of methods are available for this purpose, including surveys, polling and interviews. Research shows that the regular practice of Religion contributes to a wide array of positive outcomes, such as reduced incidences of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, incarceration and drug abuse.