What Is Religion?

Religion is a unified system of beliefs, feelings and actions shared by a group. It includes a set of rituals, a code of behavior and a belief in a god or spirit. It also encompasses a view of the universe, life and death.

In many cultures, religion plays a central role in people’s lives. It brings people together, provides them with moral guidance and can give meaning to their lives. However, it can also be a source of intolerance, cruelty, violence, bigotry and social oppression. It can be a source of inspiration and ideas, but it can also lead to great acts of charity, devotion and bravery.

It is generally believed that the first religious beliefs developed from an early need for a moral framework to guide human behavior. This explains why, in most religions, there are five broad moral principles: do no harm, play fairly, be loyal to your group, respect authority and live purely.

A second theory on the origins of religion suggests that humans created spirituality as a reaction to the knowledge that they would eventually die and perhaps go on to a better place. This explains why so many religions offer hope, forgiveness and love.

In more recent times, scholars have started to pull back the lens and examine the way that certain concepts are constructed and used. They have called this a “reflexive turn” in the social sciences. One implication of this is that, as the definition of religion changes, so does its meaning.