The Definition of Religion

Religion is a set of beliefs and values concerning what people consider sacred or spiritually significant. People have been religious to some extent at all times and in every place. There are various definitions of Religion, some of which emphasize particular kinds of beliefs or activities, while others focus on the meaning and purpose of religion.

The definition of Religion used in this article is a symbolic interactionist one, which takes the notion of “valuation” broadly, to include both subjective and objective dimensions. The valuation can be a belief in supernatural beings, a desire for a good life, or a sense of personal destiny. The belief can be expressed as an object of worship and a ritual of veneration. It can also be a practice of self-discipline and ethics, a system of values or morality, or an emotional experience. It can be experienced in different ways by different people, including through art, music, and architecture as well as prayer, sacrifice, trancelike states, or emotional outbursts.

In lower grades of culture man’s helplessness in the face of forces he cannot control evokes the sense of dependence on a Divine Being that controls those forces for his weal or woe. This sense of dependence engenders hope and love. It also prompts the feeling that a protector so good and powerful can be trusted, and the consciousness of a debt to such a Protector that calls for gratitude.

Although the three-sided model of the true, the beautiful, and the good typifies what we think of as religion, there is an important element missing. That element is the presence of a community, which, while not always explicitly taught, is an indispensable dimension of every religion.