Definitions of the word "religion"
More definitions, including
the one used on this web site:
More definitions by academics and others:
||"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
|Paul Connelly suggests the following definition: |
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
||The 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, which begins with a belief in a supernatural being -- perhaps one or more deities: |
|Belief in something sacred (for example, gods or other
|A distinction between sacred and profane objects. |
|Ritual acts focused on sacred objects. |
|A moral code believed to have a sacred or supernatural basis. |
|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.|
|Prayer and other forms of communication with the supernatural. |
|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. |
|A more or less total organization of one's life based on the
world view. |
|A social group bound together by the above.
|From Irving Hexham's "Concise Dictionary of Religions:" 4|
|Peter Berger: "the human enterprise by which a sacred cosmos is
|Emile Durkheim: "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to
|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."|
|Immanuel Kant: "the recognition of all our duties as divine commands."|
|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..."|
|Friedrich Schleiermacher: "a feeling for the infinite" and "a feeling of
|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
|Rodney Stark: "any socially organized pattern of beliefs and practices
concerning ultimate meaning that assumes the existence of the supernatural."|
|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:
|"The processes by which mankind tries to find meaning in a
|"That which is of ultimate concern."|
|"That which gives meaning to our life."|
||"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|
Some beliefs are firmly held by people who do not consider the to be a religion -- although many others do:
||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).|
|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.|
||Agnostics and Atheists
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
||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.|
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:
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,
other Neopagan traditions etc. to be religions.
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.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Paul Connelly, "Definition of Religion and Related Terms," at:
- "Agnosticism / Atheism: What is Religion? The Problem of Definition.
The Difficulty with Defining Religion," About.com, at:
- There are at least two different books titled "Encyclopedia of
Philosophy:" one by
Paul Edwards Paul Edwards and the other by
- Irving Hexham, "Concise Dictionary of Religion, Regent College Press,
Vancouver, 1999. Given a rating of 5 stars out of 5 by Amazon.com readers.
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
- "Peace poetry," OrganicMD.org, at: http://www.organicmd.org/
Copyright © 1997 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2018-FEB-13
Compiler: B.A. Robinson