What Is Religion?


Religion is a large and varied category of human practices. Some researchers define it as a belief in transcendental powers and an attempt to propitiate or please these powers. Others see religion as a system of values and rituals that organizes a person’s values, whether or not these beliefs involve supernatural powers. Yet another approach defines religion as the most important activities that a group of people share in common. This definition would encompass all of the things that people do together, including those that are not explicitly religious but which have an influence on their lives.

Many different theories of religion have been developed to explain how and why it develops in certain places and times. For example, anthropologists have described how early humans may have attempted to control uncontrollable aspects of their environment (e.g., weather, pregnancy and birth, success in hunting) by manipulating their environment through magic or by supplicating to gods and goddesses through religion.

Sociologists have also looked at the way that social and cultural forces shape the ways in which religion is experienced. For example, in some countries, religion has been used to justify repressive or authoritarian policies, such as those that restrict the freedom of speech and religion, or the oppression of minorities. In other cases, religious faith has been a source of strength and hope during difficult times. In addition, a growing body of evidence has shown that participating in religion can benefit health and well-being.