An Introduction to Religion

Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, practices and ethics. It has a strong influence on many aspects of people’s lives, from the mundane—how they live and dress—to the most profound—their ideas about the universe and themselves. Religions have sacred histories, narratives and mythologies, preserved in oral traditions, books or art and interpreted in rituals, symbols and holy places. They may have explanations for the origin of life, the universe and other phenomena. They teach moral values and have a strong role in people’s social lives, influencing them to be kind, respectful and fair.

The concept religion emerged from the use of a Latin word, religio, for scrupulous devotion or commitment. In the past, scholars used it to describe a genus of social forms that share characteristics such as rituals and a sense of sacred meaning. Its current sense is a taxon, a category-concept that includes the major world religions as well as less common ones like Taoism and Confucianism. There is also an emerging view that religion can be applied to a wider range of social formations that are not yet considered a religion.

Most attempts at analyzing religion follow a classical, monothetic model in which any instance accurately described by the term will have a single defining property. Recently, however, a number of approaches have rejected this assumption and have shifted to a polythetic theory, in which there are a series of prototypes that can be used to identify a particular type.

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