What Is Religion?


Religion is a complex set of beliefs, values, and practices that people practice. These traditions vary greatly and encompass all aspects of human life. Some are ancient, others are newer. Some are centered on gods or spirits; others are more humanistic and/or naturalistic. Regardless of their differences, all religions share certain features.

The National Council for the Social Studies has long advocated that students need to study religion in order to become a well-informed citizen in a diverse society. Religious illiteracy fuels prejudice and antagonism, which can hinder efforts to promote respect for diversity and peaceful coexistence in local and global communities.

The word religion derives from the Latin term religio, meaning “scrupulousness” or “devotedness”. In western antiquity, it likely was used to describe a group’s attachment to a particular god or goddess. It may have also been used to refer to a group’s commitment to taboos, promises, curses, or vows.

Today, the word religion is most often used to refer to a group’s beliefs and values, and its observable practices. It can also be used to refer to an individual’s relationship with a god or spirit, to texts that are regarded as scriptures, or to people who are invested with spiritual or moral authority.

Some scholars have criticized the idea that one can construct an objective definition of religion. They have argued that focusing on beliefs and any subjective states obscures the fact that religion is a social category and that the concept of religion has emerged from particular cultural contexts. They have called for a shift from describing what can be observed to examining what is actually being done.

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