Religion reflects the diverse and profound ways that people value, organize, and live their lives. It addresses fundamental questions that science cannot answer, such as the purpose of life and what happens after death. Religion often provides believers with a framework for moral conduct and with a sense of their place in the world. It may include a belief in a supreme being, an afterlife, and a divine plan for humanity and the universe.
Most social scientists take religion to be a taxon, a category-concept that includes such paradigmatic examples as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism. Most of these analyses have been monothetic, operating on the classical view that every instance accurately described by a concept will share one defining property. More recently, however, scholars have begun to develop polythetic approaches that allow for more complexity and ambiguity in the definition of religion.
For example, some scholars use a four-feature definition of religion that is simultaneously functional, theoretical, and historical. This definition requires that there be an object of devotion, a ritual or set of practices to express and display the valuation, institutional structures to manage the organization of people who engage in these activities, and ideational elements to provide a rationale for their participation.
Regardless of its precise definition, religion is everywhere. From the turbans at your grocery store to the various churches around town, religion is a part of all our daily lives. The study of religion increases our understanding of the diversity that surrounds us and encourages civic engagement and tolerance.