What Is Religion?


Religion is a complex concept that encompasses many different beliefs, practices and institutions. It reflects the different values that people have and how they act in their daily lives. It is a powerful force that helps individuals, communities and societies to cope with the problems of life and provides an essential source of moral guidance. Many research studies have found that religious and spiritual practices can lead to better health, education, social integration, economic well-being, self-control, empathy, and social cohesion. They can also lower the incidence of some social pathologies such as out-of-wedlock births, violence and crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, delinquency, and mental disorders.

Many scholars take a functional approach to religion, which has its roots in the work of Emile Durkheim. For them, a religion is any system of beliefs and practices that binds people together into a cohesive moral community. This function of religion is often referred to as its “glue” and it has been found that those who practice a religion have more social support than those who do not.

Another functionalist approach to religion comes from Clifford Geertz, who argues that the normative prescriptions of religion are grounded in a worldview. This view is sometimes characterized as a mixed definition because it attempts to balance the two kinds of necessary criteria that are typically required in a definition of religion: metaphysics and axiology. In contrast to this, other scholars such as Charles L. Smith and Karl Asad have critiqued the concept of religion by pointing out that assumptions baked into its name have distorted our grasp of historical realities.

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