What Is Religion?

Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, values, and practices. It encompasses a vast range of practices from tribal totem worship and belief in guardian spirits to the worship of multiple gods or god and goddesses, as well as codes of honor, moral beliefs and behaviors, rites of passage, holy books and symbols, and religious art and architecture. It also includes cosmological beliefs, a belief in miracles and prophecies, and various interpretations of human existence, including theistic religions that believe in a supreme creator god or gods and agnosticism, atheism, and nontheism.

For scholars, the question of whether or not something counts as a religion has become controversial in part because of the sheer diversity of practices now said to belong to this class. As with other abstract concepts used to sort cultural types, such as literature or democracy, some think that one can understand religion as a social taxon by examining the properties shared by members of the class. Others take a polythetic approach to the concept, believing that any practice may be considered a religion as long as it has enough of the right kind of properties.

Even if religion is not found everywhere in the world, it is clearly a fundamental phenomenon for many people. Whether they participate in Christianity or Buddhism, Scientology or Rastafarianism, most of the 6.5 billion people alive today adhere to some form of religion. Religion helps to organize people’s lives, establish and bolster their identities, provide them with moral guidance, give meaning to their experiences, and create a sense of community.

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