What Is Religion?
Religion is a cultural system of behaviors, practices and ethics that forms the basis for the social order in human societies. It is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that can have positive and negative effects on individuals and their society.
Religions typically regard supernatural forces of varying degrees of specificity and complexity, including deities (who are usually named), spirits, or other powers that are unobservable and non-natural. These forces are not bound by the laws of nature and can influence people’s fortunes, health, and spiritual development.
The first signpost used in anthropology to make sense of religion was crafted by Edward Burnett Tylor (1871). He defined religion as “the belief in spiritual beings”, and argued that narrowing the definition to include only a supreme deity, judgment after death, idolatry, and so on would exclude many peoples from the category of religious.
A more comprehensive approach was formulated by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1926-2006). His definition of religion is more complex and holistic, addressing intangibles such as emotions and feelings.
According to this definition, a religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.
Another important point that explains the contested meaning of religion is its history. As with other abstract concepts used to sort cultural types, the concept of religion has grown and shifted over time as it was retooled to refer to a variety of different social practices. This is reflected in the different ways that these practices are now said to fall within the concept of religion, ranging from cosmic to polytheistic to functional.