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Definitions of the word "religion"

More definitions, including our own

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More definitions by academics and others:

bullet"Dhruvtara" posted the following definition on a worldwide weblog for people from India:

"A fundamental way of thinking and approaching things. Those who don't do things in the way they are told by their religion will be punish by some supernatural power. " (Slightly edited).

bulletPaul Connelly suggests the following definition:

"Religion originates in an attempt to represent and order beliefs, feelings, imaginings and actions that arise in response to direct experience of the sacred and the spiritual. As this attempt expands in its formulation and elaboration, it becomes a process that creates meaning for itself on a sustaining basis, in terms of both its originating experiences and its own continuing responses."1

bulletThe Agnosticism / Atheism section on About.com uses an approach found in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Rather than attempting to define religion, they describe some of the factors that are typically found in religion. The About author came up with the following list:
 
bulletBelief in something sacred (for example, gods or other supernatural beings).
 
bulletA distinction between sacred and profane objects.
 
bulletRitual acts focused on sacred objects.
 
bulletA moral code believed to have a sacred or supernatural basis.
 
bulletCharacteristically religious feelings (awe, sense of mystery, sense of guilt, adoration), which tend to be aroused in the presence of sacred objects and during the practice of ritual.
 
bulletPrayer and other forms of communication with the supernatural.
 
bulletA world view, or a general picture of the world as a whole and the place of the individual therein. This picture contains some specification of an over-all purpose or point of the world and an indication of how the individual fits into it.
 
bulletA more or less total organization of one's life based on the world view.
 
bulletA social group bound together by the above. 2,3
 
bulletFrom Irving Hexham's "Concise Dictionary of Religions:" 4

bulletPeter Berger: "the human enterprise by which a sacred cosmos is established."

bulletEmile Durkheim: "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things."

bulletJames Frazer: "a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct or control the course of nature and human life."

bulletImmanuel Kant: "the recognition of all our duties as divine commands."

bulletKarl Marx: "the self-conscious and self-feeling of man who has either not found himself or has already lost himself again... the general theory of the world... its logic in a popular form... its moral sanction, its solemn completion, its universal ground for consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence..."

bulletFriedrich Schleiermacher: "a feeling for the infinite" and "a feeling of absolute dependence."

bulletNinian Smart: "a set of institutionalized rituals with a tradition and expressing and/or evoking sacral sentiments directed at a divine or trans-divine focus seen in the context of the human phenomenological environment and at least partially described by myths or by myths and doctrines.

bulletRodney Stark: "any socially organized pattern of beliefs and practices concerning ultimate meaning that assumes the existence of the supernatural."

bulletMax Weber: "to say what it is, is not possible... the essence of religion is not even our concern, as we make it our task to study the conditions and effects of a particular type of social behavior."

Other definitions picked up through random surfing of the Internet:

bullet"The processes by which mankind tries to find meaning in a chaotic universe."
 
bullet"That which is of ultimate concern."
 
bullet"That which gives meaning to our life."

bullet "Notwithstanding all of its respectful liturgy and doxology, religion is, in part, frustration and anger with the Creator, who gave us enough intelligence to understand life's dilemmas, but not enough intelligence to do anything about it." 5

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Some people do not consider their personal spiritual path to be a religion:

bullet Many conservative Christians refer to Christianity not as a religion but as an intensely personal relationship with Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ).
 
bulletMany Native Americans believe that their spiritual beliefs and practices are not a religion in the normal sense of the term. They form a integral and seamless part of their very being, totally integrated into their life experience.
 
bulletAgnostics and Atheists often do not regard their beliefs to be a religion. To most, Atheism and Agnosticism simply represent a single belief about the existence or non-existence of a supreme being. They do not necessarily include ethical matters as a part of Atheism or Agnosticism.
 
bulletThe New Age is sometimes referred to as a religion. However, it is in reality a collection of diverse beliefs and practices from which a practitioner may select those that appeal to her/him. The individual often grafts these beliefs and practices onto an established religion.

Our compromise definition:

This website's essays use a very broad definition of religion:

"Religion is any specific system of belief about deity, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, a philosophy of life, and a worldview."

By way of explanation:

  • "Specific system" includes mutually agreed upon factors held in common by members of a particular faith group. Some religions have as few as two rules concerning belief and practice; others document thousands.

  • "Belief about deity" can involve a belief in a personal god or goddess, or in a pantheon of gods or goddesses, or in an impersonal creative force, or a belief that no supreme being exists, or honest doubt about the existence of a deity.

  • "Philosophy of life" focuses on attempting to answer existential questions like: Why am I here?, What is my purpose? What is life all about?, What is the meaning of it all?

  • "Worldview" is a set of basic, foundational beliefs concerning deity, humanity and the rest of the universe.

Thus we would consider the tens of thousands of Christian faith groups, Islam, Judaism, Native American Spirituality, Wicca, and other Neopagan traditions etc. to be religions. 

We include Agnosticism, Atheism, Humanism, Ethical Culture etc. as religions, because they also contain a "belief about deity." Their belief may be that they do not know whether a deity exists, or they have no knowledge of God, or they sincerely believe that God does not exist. We include them as religions because they fulfill some or all of a person's metaphysical needs -- defined here as of ultimate and fundamental reality. Also, on practical level, Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, etc. often respond with these words when asked what their religion is.

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Paul Connelly, "Definition of Religion and Related Terms," at: http://www.darc.org/
  2. "Agnosticism / Atheism: What is Religion? The Problem of Definition. The Difficulty with Defining Religion," About.com, at: http://atheism.about.com/
  3. There are at least two different books titled "Encyclopedia of Philosophy:" one by Paul Edwards Paul Edwards and the other by Donald Borchert.
  4. Irving Hexham, "Concise Dictionary of Religion, Regent College Press, Vancouver, 1999. Given a rating of 5 stars out of 5 by Amazon.com readers. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  5. "Peace poetry," OrganicMD.org, at: http://www.organicmd.org/

Site navigation: Home page > Religious Information > Definition: "religion" > here

or: Home page > Comparison of religions > Definition: "religion" > here

Copyright © 1997 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-FEB-13
Compiler: B.A. Robinson

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