Religious Tolerance logo

Definitions of the word "religion"

More definitions, including
the one used on this web site:

More definitions by academics and others:

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

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

bullet Paul 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 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, which begins with a belief in a supernatural being -- perhaps one or more deities:
bullet Belief in something sacred (for example, gods or other supernatural beings).
bullet A distinction between sacred and profane objects.
bullet Ritual acts focused on sacred objects.
bullet A moral code believed to have a sacred or supernatural basis.
bullet Characteristically 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.
bullet Prayer and other forms of communication with the supernatural.
bullet A 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.
bullet A more or less total organization of one's life based on the world view.
bullet A social group bound together by the above. 2,3
bullet From Irving Hexham's "Concise Dictionary of Religions:" 4

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

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

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

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

bullet Karl 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..."

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

bullet Ninian 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.

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

bullet Max 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

horizontal rule

Sponsored link

horizontal rule

Some beliefs are firmly held by people who do not consider the to be a religion -- although many others do:

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).
bullet Many 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.
bullet Agnostics 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 the root meaning of Atheism or Agnosticism.
bullet The New Age is sometimes referred to as a religion. However, it might be more accurately defined as 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.

horizontal rule

Sponsored link:

horizontal rule

The compromise definition of "religion" that we use on this web site:

Since we deal with a broad range of different religions on this web site, and a much larger number of various denominations, sects, and faith group within each religion, we looked for a universal or near universal definition. That raised the problem of including the requirement for belief in a God, or Goddess, or a God and a Goddess, or a group of deities in the definition. To require that would eliminate Buddhism as a religion., It is generally regarded as the fourth largest religion in the world after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Every book that we have seen that describes the religions of the world includes Buddhism.

This web site's essays use a very inclusive definition of religion:

"Religion is any system of belief about one or more deities, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, a philosophy of life, and a world view."

By way of explanation:

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

  • "Belief about one or more deities" has many possible options, including:
    • An affirmative belief that a deity or deities exist which may take the form of:
      • a specific single personal God, as in Judaism, and Islam, or
      • a specific Godhead consisting of multiple persons, as in the Christian Trinity, or
      • a specific personal Goddess, as in Dianic Wicca, or
      • two specific deities -- typically one male and one female as in most Wiccan groups, or one supremely good and one evil deity as in Zoroastrianism, or
      • a specific pantheon of gods or goddesses, or
      • a specific pantheon of gods and goddesses of whom one is supreme over the others;

    • A belief in an impersonal creative force; or
    • Having an honest doubt or uncertainty about the existence of a deity, as in Agnosticism, or

    • Believing that the existence of a deity can ever be proven or disproven, as with some Agnostics, or

    • Having no knowledge of the existence of a deity, as in the beliefs of Atheists, or

    • Actively asserting that no supreme being exists, as in the beliefs of much of the public about Atheists.

  • "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?

  • "World view" 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, Buddhism, Secular Humanism, Ethical Culture etc. as religions, because they also contain a "belief about deity."

We include them as religions because they fulfill some or all of a person's metaphysical and spiritual needs -- defined here as of ultimate and fundamental reality. Also, on practical level:

  • Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, Humanists, etc. often respond with these words when asked what their religion is.

  • Government census offices generally report on the percentages of these groups in their opinion polls.

  • Gallup, Pew Research, Quinnipiac University Poll, etc. also include them in their polls.

horizontal line


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:
  2. "Agnosticism / Atheism: What is Religion? The Problem of Definition. The Difficulty with Defining Religion,", at:
  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 readers. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.
  5. "Peace poetry,", at:

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

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

Copyright 1997 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-FEB-13
Compiler: B.A. Robinson

line.gif (538 bytes)
Sponsored link


Go to the previous page, or to the "definition of 'religion' " menu, or choose:

To search this website:

Click on one of the links ^^ above at the < < left, or use this search bar:

search engine by freefind

Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

E-mail us about errors, etc.  Purchase a CD of this web site

FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?

Twitter link

Facebook icon

GooglePage Translator:

This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only

After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore page to English.

Twitter icon

Facebook icon

About us
Our beliefs
Is this your first visit?
Contact us
External links

Recommended books

Visitors' essays
Our forum
New essays
Other features
Buy a CD of this site
Vital notes

World religions
Christian def'n
 Shared beliefs
 Handling change
 Bible topics
 Bible inerrancy
 Bible harmony
Interpret the Bible
 Beliefs & creeds
 Da Vinci code
 Revelation 666
Other religions
Cults and NRMs
Comparing Religions

Non-theistic beliefs

About all religions
Main topics
Basic information
Gods & Goddesses
Handling change
Doubt & security
Confusing terms
End of the World?
True religion?
Seasonal events
Science vs. Religion
More information

Morality & ethics
Absolute truth

Attaining peace
Religious tolerance
Religious freedom
Religious hatred
Religious conflict
Religious violence

"Hot" topics
Very hot topics
Ten Commandments
Abortion access
Assisted suicide
Death penalty

Same-sex marriage

Human rights
Gays in the military
Sex & gender
Stem cells
Other topics

Laws and news
Religious laws
Religious news





Sponsored link: