What Is Religion?


When scholars use the term Religion, they typically mean the beliefs and practices that people have that they believe in. A common definition of Religion is that it consists of faith, worship and morality. Several social theorists have worked to understand the role of religion in society. These include Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and Karl Marx. They are considered some of the founding thinkers of modern sociology.

In the wake of 19th century European industrialization and secularization, these social theorists looked at the relationship between religion and society and their work is still influential in contemporary research. These theorists generally analyzed the impact of religion from two angles: a substantive approach and a functional approach.

The functional approach focuses on the social impact of religion, examining its role in generating community solidarity, promoting behavior consistency (social control), and providing strength during life’s transitions and tragedies (meaning and purpose). In this approach, religion is a social genus and all religious behaviors appear universally. This approach arguably resists the passive image of human beings.

A substantive definition of Religion might include belief in a supreme being, a god or goddess, a soul and immortality. Other features of religion might be personal beliefs and feelings, rituals and ceremonies and group activities. The concept of Religion is a broad one and there are many different religions in the world today. With new religions, revitalization movements and quasi-religious pursuits, the question of what constitutes Religion is more important than ever.

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