What Is Religion?

Religion is a phenomena that arises out of a human need for faith and meaning in life. Many sources of value serve this purpose, such as science and family, but religion is distinct in that it is the primary form in which this valuation is manifested and transmitted to subsequent generations. Thus, religious people are willing to live according to and even die for what they believe.

Various theorists have offered different definitions of religion, but most fall into one of two categories. The first is the functionalist view that religion is whatever dominant concern serves to organize a person’s values and provides orientation for his or her life, regardless of whether these concerns involve belief in unusual realities. The other view, popularized by Emile Durkheim in his theory of religion as a social phenomenon, is that religion is a system of beliefs and values that creates solidarity among members of a society.

A number of anthropologists, psychologists, and other scholars have also looked at religion from a more scientific perspective. They have argued that religion is a product of human needs and fears, such as the fear of death or a need for a more spiritual experience than the world provides. Moreover, they have noted that humans tend to associate these feelings with an all-powerful Creator who would protect and guide them.

Some scholars have added a third dimension to the classic model of the “true, beautiful, and good” and have called for adding the word “community” to the definition. This addition reflects the growing recognition that while it is important to understand individual religions, their existence and development, they must also be understood within the context of human communities.