The Definition of Religion


Religion is the set of beliefs and practices people follow in the belief that there is a transcendent power that can give meaning to their lives. It includes a wide range of social and moral behavior, from the observance of certain holidays to the support of charities and the building or maintaining of places of worship. People act religiously in a variety of ways, including scrupulously, devotionally, ecstatically, puritanically, sacrificially, prayerfully, and ritualistically. The most important function of religions, however, is to provide a framework for human life that can help people navigate the most challenging aspects of living on this planet.

The term “religion” is often used to refer to specific denominations or faiths, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. But it is also common to use the term to refer to a broad class of social practices, a classification that has become known as the world religions. In addition, scholars use the term to describe religions that are not organized into any specific religion or denomination. These are sometimes called folk or indigenous religions.

While there are many definitions of religion, most scholars agree that the concept is multifaceted and that different dimensions of religiosity share some properties. This type of analysis is called a polythetic approach, and it can be compared to the way a microbiology professor might sort different bacterial strains by their different characteristics. The result can be the identification of a class of properties that seem to be common to members of a group, or even to all groups, and the formulation of explanatory theories that identify those properties and make sense of the group.

One reason why it is so difficult to agree on a single definition of religion is that the phenomenon is constantly changing. In the past, most scholars viewed religion as a category that was unchanging and stable, but over the last few decades there has been a movement toward a more reflexive understanding of the concept. This movement has led to the realization that a definition of religion is not an object in the world that can be captured by a camera or a microscope, but is instead a construct that shifts according to one’s perspective.

This explains why it is so important to protect the role of religion in our society. Lawmakers should seek constitutionally appropriate ways to explore the impact of religion and recognize its vitality. In addition, the President should appoint and the Senate should confirm judges who are sensitive to this issue and who understand the importance of the First Amendment in protecting freedom of religion in our country. Only in this way will we remain a strong and prosperous nation. Thank you. – Dr. Richard Wiseman, President of the Center for Inquiry in Science, author of The Science of Spirituality, and co-founder of the International Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness.