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What is Religion?


The difficulty in defining religion seems to lie in the nature of religion itself. First, there is the breadth of those phenomena we think of as "religion." Simply put there is a staggering variety of objects, beliefs, teachings, times, and activities that can in some way be considered "religious." How can one definition cover all of these?

Second, religion itself is complex. One scholar has noted, "religion is a complex phenomenon, related to a variety of aspects of existence." Thus, any definition of religion "must take into account the scope of the religion's impact on human thought, feeling, and action. Individual and social needs must be considered as must he expression and/or recognition of values." In other words, for any definition of religion to be acceptable, it must deal with belief, doctrine, experiences, actions, rituals, social identity and individual needs.

Not surprisingly, a variety of definitions have been proposed for "religion." The list below is a small sample of the definitions given to religion. As you read each definition, consider whether or not you believe that definition is adequate.


Religion is…
(Some Definitions of Religion)

  1. The human search for ultimate meaning in life. A quest for and response to ultimacy.
  2. The quest for the values of the ideal life and for the means of achieving them, including a world view that relates this quest to the surrounding universe.
  3. "A set of symbolic forms and acts which relate man to the ultimate condition of his existence." (Robert Bellah)
  4. A specific system of belief in God, doctrines, etc. God's relation to humanity and the universe.
  5. A set of rituals which transform the state of man. Rituals which are rationalized and confirmed by sacred myths. A supernatural power behind the ritual brings the transformation.
  6. The feeling of absolute dependence. A sense and taste for the infinite. (F. Schleiermacher)
  7. An exploration in self-discovery.
  8. "What an individual does with his solitariness" (Alfred North Whitehead)
  9. "A person's ultimate concern" (Paul Tillich)
  10. "A system of beliefs and practices directed to the ultimate concern of society."
  11. A personalized set or institutional system of beliefs and practices pertaining to the supernatural. (Supernatural: An order of existence beyond human experience and observation)
  12. Belief in invisible superhuman power together with feelings and practices that flow from such a belief.
  13. Humanity encountering what is authentically real and unconditionally important.
  14. "[The seeking] of divine truth, exploring who we are, why we're here, and how we should live." (Joel Beversluis, ed., Sourcebook of the world's Religions)
  15. Ways of interpreting life and ways of living.
  16. Belief about reality and living in accord with that belief.
  17. The search for the "more" of life; questioning, seeking truth.
  18. The ultimate sense that people give to their existence.
  19. The betterment of yourself and the betterment of the world you live in.
  20. A set of beliefs and practices designed to improve the nature of oneself.
  21. A means to ultimate transformation.
  22. A way to understand this experience that we call "life"
  23. Religion is the journey of life whereupon individuals attempt to achieve the highest possible good by adjusting their lives to the strongest and most magnificent power in the universe.
  24. A set of beliefs and practices which serve to subordinate us to something superior or holy in order to justify the events that control our lives 
  25. A person's journey within themselves and within society on a search for truth, love, community, and "holy connection".




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