The Essence of Religion


The word religion refers to social categories that bind people to shared moral rules and rituals. These social formations can be as broad as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism or as narrow as the beliefs and practices of a particular ethnic group. The concept of religion is also used to taxonomize the world’s most prominent religious institutions and movements.

Whether religion is a real-world phenomenon, a metaphor, or an imagined set of mental states, there is no doubt that it is a powerful force in the lives of humans. It has inspired many saints and leaders to lead good, moral lives. Despite its many problems, however, it has also been found that regular religious practice promotes wellness in the individual by fostering a sense of community and by helping people cope with stress and illness.

It is possible to live a spiritual life without joining any organised religion. Indeed, there are some who prefer to call themselves agnostics or atheists. But for others, the support and inspiration of a religious community can make all the difference in surviving a tough time or staying on track with their recovery from addiction or a mental health issue.

While scholars debate the essence of Religion, it is becoming increasingly common to use a polythetic definition based on properties that are commonly shared by the different manifestations of this phenomenon. As Smith notes, a polythetic approach avoids the claim that a given social category has an ahistorical essence and shifts attention from hidden mental states to visible institutional structures.

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