The Definition of Religion

The word religion is used to describe a wide range of beliefs, behaviors, practices and attitudes. A common definition of religion includes a belief in a creator god or gods, the afterlife, moral codes, and a system of ethics. Religious people may also worship, pray, fast and eat special foods. They may also have rituals and ceremonies, read special texts and use symbols to explain the world around them.

Some scholars have suggested that the concept of religion is a universal one and that it exists in all cultures. This view is called monothetic and it works from the classical idea that each instance of a given concept will have a property that accurately describes it. More recently, other scholars have proposed polythetic approaches that abandon the classical idea of a single defining property for a concept and instead treat each instance as a case in a broader category.

Sociologists, anthropologists and other scientists have debated the origins of religion. Some scholars suggest that religion developed as a natural response to humans’ increasing self-awareness and knowledge that they would eventually die. They sought a way to avoid death or, failing that, to have a chance to go on to a better place.

There is evidence that some philosophers have taken these claims seriously. In the twentieth century, Continental philosophers like Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir all addressed religion in their work. Likewise, some of the founders of modern physics and chemistry have religious backgrounds.