What Is Religion?

Religion is a phenomenon that provides a basis for human value, faith and meaning. People need these values, faith and meaning to orient their lives in this world. They may find these in other sources, such as family or science, but religion provides a context for this valuation and often answers important questions of great significance. In this way it serves an essential social need, and it has shaped societies around the globe.

In modern times, there are many different religions in the world, including Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. Japan has its own unique religion, Shinto. Hockey, Canada’s national sport, is also considered a religion. In the United States, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act defines religion very broadly, covering not only traditional organized religions but beliefs that are new or uncommon and not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others.

These broad definitions reflect the fact that a religious belief can be anything from a belief in a deity to a philosophy about the meaning of life to a set of rules for behavior. It could even include a desire to make money. Religions provide guidance and a framework for morality, and they often promote peace and understanding among the members of their communities. They also often encourage charitable work, such as feeding the hungry and caring for the sick.

Religions may also serve to bring order and structure to a community, establishing hierarchies and offering a set of guidelines for how people should be treated. This can be a source of comfort to the poorest of the poor who are assured that their efforts and prayers will be heard. They can also help to keep a community together in times of conflict or crisis.

Religious beliefs are not only the basis for ethical behaviour, but they can also explain how we came to be here and what our place in this universe is. They can offer hope for the future and give comfort in times of sorrow. They can inspire art and music, encourage charitable giving, teach a moral code and provide an identity to those who adhere to them.

Attempts to define religion are challenging because the concept is so broad. There are substantive and functional definitions, but these are not clear or easy to apply. The philosophical issue is whether a definition for religion can be arrived at in the same way that other abstract concepts used to sort cultural types can be defined.