What Is Religion?

Religion is a belief in a higher power and a code of conduct for human life. In practice, religion is a set of mystical beliefs, moral teachings and ritual practices that are adhered to by believers. It also includes a system of social norms and expectations for behavior, often codified as scriptures or other sacred texts. Whether or not one defines religion as a system of faith, practice and worship or an underlying spiritual belief, there is no doubt that it is a universal phenomenon. The world’s 6.5 billion people practice at least some form of religion, with the majority belonging to one of the major religions of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Judaism.

Many theories have been put forward to explain the origin of religion. Anthropologists (scientists who study tribal and “primitive” societies) believe that religion developed as a response to a biological or a cultural need. They argue that humans became self-aware by becoming able to think about the process of death, and they sought ways to avoid it or to guarantee a good life after death.

The higher religions are based on the recognition of a Divine personality in and behind the forces of nature, a being that is both all-powerful and all-knowing, supremely wise and loving. In these religions, man is called upon to renounce his own egotistical desires and subordinate himself to the will of God. In the lower religions, however, the prevailing motive is the desire for happiness and perfection in this life. Conformity to the recognized moral standards, though not generally neglected, is a secondary concern.

Most of the religions are based on a belief that certain individuals have been endowed with special insight to convey the divine message to mankind. These religious teachers are known as prophets and are regarded with divine authority. In the higher religions, these prophets are usually male. They include Jesus Christ (c. 570-632) for Christianity, Muhammad for Islam, Baháullah (1817-1892) for the Bahái faith and Moses (c. thirteenth century bce) for Judaism.

Some phenomenologists have criticized the concept of religion as being too vague and subjective. They argue that the definition of religion is too broad and could be used to describe any activity that involves the imagination and belief in the supernatural. They also claim that the term religion is a Western construct and does not adequately reflect the realities of the many different religions throughout the world. Despite these arguments, others continue to support the notion that there is such a thing as religion. Choosing the right religion is a big decision and it is important to ask friends and family about their beliefs; use the Internet to connect with beliefs from around the globe. Be sure to choose a religion that reflects your own values and beliefs. Be wary of following a cult as they can be dangerous. Also, be aware that some religions are based on falsehoods and can be used as a drug to escape from reality.