What Is Religion?

Religion is a social term used to describe groups of people who have shared beliefs and practices. The word comes from the Latin root religio, which means “to bind.” Today, more than 80 percent of the world subscribes to some form of religion.

A broader definition of religion includes such concepts as truth, Scripture, experience, tradition, tolerance, unity, conformity, authority, deity, doctrine, salvation, morality, sexuality, family, death and humanity. Among the religious, however, there is great diversity of opinion about these and many other concepts.

In modern Western society, “religion” often takes on a narrower meaning as a way of discussing a set of practices: prayers, rituals, behaviors or confessions of doctrinal belief. For example, a person who regularly attends church is seen as practicing religion.

Another possible usage of the term, which is used widely in the United States, emphasizes the idea that a person is religious when he or she believes in a god or goddess. A person who does not believe in such a being is said to be “non-practicing.”

One of the most important aspects of religion is that it is a powerful tool for social change. It can help poor people escape poverty and improve their families’ social lives.

It can also inoculate people against such social ills as suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births and crime. It can encourage a sense of self-esteem, and it can reduce depression, which is a major public health problem in the United States.