Religion is a term that refers to human beings’ relationship with something sacred, holy, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. It also refers to the way people deal with ultimate concerns about their lives and their fate after death. In many traditions, this relation and these concerns are expressed in terms of one’s relationship with or attitudes toward gods or spirits; in more humanistic or naturalistic forms of religion, they are expressed in terms of one’s relationship to the broader human community or the natural world.
The concept of religion is often a complex and interdisciplinary topic that involves multiple approaches, including textual, historical, linguistic, philosophical and sociological tools. It is a social phenomenon that shapes and influences individual behaviour, society and culture as a whole.
In social studies of religion, the term is used to describe a range of beliefs, practices and cultural institutions centred on social needs and values. Religious beliefs and practices are generally based on morality and can provide a sense of meaning, purpose, and stability during times of tragedy or difficulty.
A common approach to the study of religion is the functional approach, which views religion as a cohesive force that binds individuals together into a societal unit and offers strength during life’s difficult transitions. Sociologist Emile Durkheim is usually credited with this approach and was the first sociologist to analyze the impact of religion on society.
Among the most important functions of religion is to help people cope with the difficulties that are part and parcel of living in a world where there is no guarantee of a tomorrow. These difficulties include death, disaster and other tragic events. These experiences can cause stress and anxiety, which are often felt by those who have strong religious beliefs or values.
Other functions of religion may include social cohesion, social control and social justice. These functions are important because they help to ensure that members of a society maintain social stability.
Another useful conceptualization of religion is the genus and species conception (see genus and species). This theory treats all of the phenomena of humankind as belonging to the same category and requires that all of them share a certain defining property.
This defining property is commonly taken to be intensity and comprehensiveness. It is a feature that makes religion unique and distinguishes it from other methods of valuing. It is a feature that is characteristic of the way religion works in the world and helps to explain how it operates.
As a genus, religion is the most intensive and comprehensive method of valuing that we experience in our lives. In a genus species understanding, the most effective way of explaining and interpreting this phenomenon is to recognize it as being the most intense and comprehensive form of valuation that humankind has developed.
Using a genus species understanding to define religion requires careful analysis and synthesis of the various features that distinguish it from other forms of valuation. This process must take into account the fact that religious traditions often employ metaphysics and axiology to make prescriptions for life, so any theoretical explanation of religion must also pay attention to those accounts of the nature of the universe.