What Is Religion?


Religion is a phenomenon that satisfies a fundamental human need. It embodies the valuation of life and a worldview in the form of beliefs, sacred texts, trances, feasts, holy places, and sermons. It is also a source of moral order, a foundation for faith and hope, and the primary means by which that valuation is transmitted and shared among individuals and through generations.

Some critics, such as Sullivan, argue that religion is simply a Western concept that has been used to shore up the power of colonial and sovereign states through shifting, arbitrary demarcations between what constitutes a religion (e.g., scripture, tradition, culture, reason). While this critique is certainly valid, it neglects the fact that, even if it is true that religion as a concept originated with imperialist and neo-colonialist projects, it still names a real thing and that that real thing would operate in our world in exactly the same way had it not been named.

The scholarly study of religion has always been inherently comparative, since there are many faiths that are equally worthy of study. It is essential to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to the field and instead embrace methods like literary criticism, history, ethnography, sociology, and anthropology, which will provide you with a more rounded view of this complex, powerful, and pervasive phenomenon. It is also important to remember that religious studies is a global endeavor and that there are no “true” religions, only competing visions of the world.