What Is Religion?

Religion is a broad term that encompasses a huge range of beliefs, practices, and values. It can include a belief in god or the supernatural, a system of moral values and behaviors, a set of ritual practices, and a philosophy. In many cases, religions also provide a source of comfort and guidance. Some even encourage healthy behaviors, and some research suggests that religious people tend to have longer lives than non-religious people.

A key element of religion is the way it organizes and protects information that has been tested and winnowed through time. These are often the most important things in life, ranging from the most fundamental to the most esoteric, including everything that makes up a human person, such as their soul or spirit. It also includes the most esoteric elements of the cosmos, such as its ultimate order or structure.

In addition to ensuring that this information is protected, organized, and transmitted (or re-transmitted) in a coherent manner, religions create worlds of confidence for their followers. They do this by establishing codes of recognition, so that in potentially hostile environments a person can know whether those they encounter are friends or foes. Religions also establish extended families that extend well beyond the immediate kinship group and tribe. Religions also make the prospect of success – whatever that might mean – much easier to recognize than it would be without them.

It is tempting to use the term’religion’ as an all-inclusive category for everything that has ever existed in human culture, but this risks treating it as an unproblematic universal and ignoring its contested nature. For this reason, scholars have in recent years drawn the camera back, so to speak, and examined the ways in which what is deemed to be’religion’ is constructed.

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