Religion is the way people deal with ultimate concerns about life and death, including a sense of moral purpose. These concern the nature of the universe, humankind’s place in it, and whether life ends with a reward or punishment. Religion also includes a set of beliefs about spiritual or divine entities. These are usually God or gods, but can be spirits, a Supreme Being or Beings, or a supernatural concept of the universe. Religions also have sacred places and objects, a code of ethical behavior, and sacred texts. They also have figures of authority such as a priesthood or the pope that are invested with godlike status and influence.
Many attempts to analyze the concept of religion have been “monothetic” in that they impose one criterion to define what is religion and exclude everything else. For example, Edward Tylor defines it as belief in a spirit or spiritual beings and Paul Tillich identifies it as the way people deal with their “ultimate concern.”
Some scholars argue that this monothetic approach is skewed by Protestant biases and that we need to move away from a view of religion as hidden mental states toward an analysis of visible religious institutions and their disciplinary practices. The resulting discussion of “functional” definitions and of what is a “religious” practice raises philosophical issues that are similar to those that arise for other abstract concepts used to sort cultural types such as literature, democracy, or music.