What Is Religion?

Religion is a broad taxon of cultural practices that varies from one group to another. The term was derived from the Latin religio, which means “respect” or “scrupulousness.” The emergence of the concept religion as a social kind probably occurred with the development of language itself, though the practice itself may be much older.

The academic study of religion is a relatively new field, but it has grown quickly. In the last century, there has been a surge of research and writing on the subject. There are several competing theories of religion, but most share the view that it is a cultural phenomenon whose practitioners are committed to some form of spiritual belief or practice.

A common view is that religious beliefs and practices are based on the concept of a sacred world or worlds. This world or worlds are often thought to exist separate from the natural or mundane (profane) world. This world or worlds are believed to contain supernatural beings, powers and qualities. Religious thought and practice often involves the notion that human beings are divine creatures.

Sociologist Emile Durkheim offered a functionalist theory of religion in which religion serves the social function of creating solidarity. His definition of religion also includes the idea that there are sacred things and profane things. This approach is disputed by other scholars, such as Paul Tillich, who defines religion as whatever dominant concern organizes people’s values, whether or not it has to do with unusual realities.