What Is Religion?
Religion is a form of life that provides a context within which sanctions and rewards, approval and disapproval, inspiration and ideation, are held in common. This makes it possible for individuals to make sense of the many constraints that lie ahead of them as they move on in their lives toward acknowledged but largely unknown futures.
Whether this takes the form of a belief in God, spirits, or the natural world, religious thinking and practice are designed to bind people together and provide them with information about the limits of human existence. This is information that has been tested and winnowed by the experiences of humans over time. It is this information that religions make available to their adherents through the various forms of social gathering, including the church (in its Greek form ekklesia), synagogue, mosque, or gurdwara, and through their ritual and practical activities such as scripture reading, preaching, or liturgy.
The concept of Religion as a social genus has a rather murky history, ranging from the purely philosophical notion of a’religious a priori’ to Weber’s definition of ‘a set of beliefs and values that have a general influence on an individual’s conduct. More recently, the idea has become popular to define Religion in terms of the role a religion can play in a person’s life, dropping the substantive element entirely, and thus dropping the need for people to believe in any particular kind of reality. This functional definition is not without its critics, who argue that this approach amounts to the same thing as denying the existence of Religion altogether.