What Is Religion?

Religion is a set of beliefs, values, and practices concerning what people hold sacred or consider to be spiritually significant. Its manifestation can be private or public, ritualized or not, and formal or informal, but it is always a component of one’s life (and thus, in most cases, is never fully “expressed”).

Religious beliefs vary widely across cultures, but many are unified by a shared sense of the transcendent. They are concerned with life after death, morality, and the universe, and they seek to control their lives through a variety of practices that can be both personal and collective. Some religions also believe in a supernatural power that is omnipresent or pervasive, and that this power has the potential to bring about either good or evil.

A common view of religion is that it serves to provide meaning and purpose in life, especially for those who are not religious or who have left religion behind. Religions are seen as being socially stabilizing, helping to ensure order and respect for the law. They provide a moral framework for behavior, and they often serve to help people deal with pain and suffering.

More recently, scholars have taken a reflexive turn in the study of religion. They have criticized the use of a definition that excludes certain practices, such as the belief in spiritual beings, from the category of religion and have argued that the invention of a concept for religion is a political process.