The Nature of Religion


Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices that gives its members an object (or objects) of devotion, a moral code to live by, and a way of thinking about life and the universe. It also involves a sense of the supernatural or the spiritual, about forces and powers that are beyond human control.

Religion grew out of human curiosity about the big questions of life and death and out of fear of uncontrollable forces. Eventually it became a source of hope. This hope took several forms: a desire for immortality or life after death, a belief in a loving creator who would watch out for human beings, and the expectation of a final judgment and reward.

The word religion is derived from the Latin religio, meaning “scrupulousness” or “devotedness.” Religion has been a major force in the lives of people throughout history and continues to influence society today. It brings people together, but it can also divide and stress individuals and groups. In addition, some people who believe differently from others experience discrimination.

A number of philosophers have analyzed the nature of religion. Some have used a formal definition, determining that a religion must have certain features such as rituals and beliefs in a special kind of reality. One example of this is Emile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912). Other examples include the anthropological definition of religion set out by Margaret Mead, and the functional approach of scholars such as Dobbelaere and Lauwers.