What Is Religion?

Religion is a source of meaning, value and faith for many people. It is often something that people are willing to live for and even die for. People can find meaning and values in other places too, but it is generally hard for them to match the power of religion in their lives.

Religions vary greatly, but they all have certain things in common: a sacred community and place; ritualized action; a sense of the sacred in daily life; a belief system that incorporates myth and symbol; a group of deities to which believers pray and worship; and often, a leader or founder who becomes godlike and has the power to do miracles. Many religious traditions also offer moral guidance and a sense of social control, which can help keep people in line.

Some scholars have argued that to understand religion in terms of beliefs or any subjective states is a Protestant bias and that instead we should shift attention to the visible institutional structures that produce these beliefs. This is the “polythetic” approach.

Others have argued that while it is important to distinguish between different types of religion, the concept is really just a way to sort social practices into categories. In other words, that it is a kind of taxon. This view of the religion as a “social genus” is sometimes called the reified concept theory (see this article). However, even the reified concept theory has a number of problems.