The Definition of Religion

Religion is a large and diverse category of human experience. It encompasses beliefs, practices, and a social organization. Religious experiences include the sacred, the transcendent, and the supernatural. They may involve a belief in unusual realities or an intense and comprehensive method of valuing life.

Moreover, a religion includes a set of values that informs a person’s worldview, his or her approach to certain writings, persons or places, and his or her morality. It may also influence the way that a person thinks about his or her relationship to others and the universe. It is a source of motivation for many of the most enduring and timelessly moving creations of humankind: art, architecture, music, dance, drama, poetry, and even the explorations of nature that issued into the natural sciences.

In addition, religions provide people with a means to attain the highest goals that they can imagine. Some of these are proximate, and have to do with the betterment of this life (a wiser, more fruitful, or more charitable way of living). But some are ultimate and concern the final condition of this or any other human being, and even of the cosmos itself.

The scholarly debate over the definition of Religion has often centered on whether or not to adopt a monothetic or polythetic approach. Those who favor a monothetic view tend to argue that any religion must have all four of the features mentioned above, while those who advocate a polythetic view are inclined to say that a religion is whatever it is characterized by these features, so long as it has them to a degree sufficient to make it distinctive from other things.

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