The Definition of Religion

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Religion is a complex, pervasive, and ancient human phenomenon that continues to be central to peoples’ world views from tribal societies to the most advanced modern empires. This article brings the latest scholarship to bear on one of mankind’s most enduring creations.

The definition of Religion can be broadly defined as all phenomena that involve a cultus or ritual as an expression or manifestation of a valuation and a doctrinus or belief that provides an intellectual basis for the valuation. This definition enables us to distinguish it from things like magic, art, science, and other cultural phenomena which can be considered religions as well.

Religious practices, ceremonies, and emotions may include laughing, crying, screaming, trancelike states, feeling of unity with other believers, and more. Many of these activities serve functional purposes such as providing meaning and purpose to life, fostering social stability, strengthening the self, encouraging psychological and physical health, and motivating people to work for positive social change.

In a more formal approach, some sociologists (scientists who study societies) like Durkheim (1897-1936) and Paul Tillich (1957) argue that religion serves as an organized system for the consolidation of values in a society and thus helps to create solidarity. Other sociologists, such as the Marxist Karl Kautsky (1818-83), have developed social interpretations of religion in line with their theories of class struggle and the historical dialectic.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) argued that religion is an expression of the human desire to overcome death through the transcendence of reality and an idealized projection of its aspirations. Other philosophers, such as the idealist Hegel (1818-1853) and the positivist Auguste Comte (1798-1857) have propounded different evolutionary schemes for the role of religion in human history.