A religion is a belief system that typically includes a set of values and practices. It can be a source of comfort, guidance, and inspiration for many people across the world. Religion has been an incredibly influential part of human history and continues to be today, even as it adapts and evolves. This makes the study of religion both important to understanding human culture, and fascinating for students looking to expand their knowledge and education.
In the past, scholars have defined membership in a religion in terms of adherence to a distinctive kind of reality. One such substantive definition was that of Emile Durkheim, who saw a religion as whatever system of practices brought a group together into a moral community (whether or not those beliefs involved unusual realities).
The problem with such substantive definitions is that they are limiting and unable to capture the full complexity of what it means to be religious. They also leave out a key aspect of what it is to be religious: the sense that something is sacred, or has a special significance.
To address these problems, some scholars have moved away from a substantive definition and toward a functional one. Emile Durkheim’s definition of religion turned on the social function of creating solidarity, and Paul Tillich used a functional definition in his 1957 book, which defined religion as any dominant concern that organizes a person’s values (whether or not those concerns involve unusual realities).
Others have gone even further. Clifford Geertz, for example, used the concept of “sacred objects” to capture both the object of worship and its power to evoke reverence. This approach has been criticized, however, because it places too much emphasis on the subjective and ignores the way that human beings create their own meaning. As a result, some scholars have rejected the idea of defining religion as a social genus, preferring to use the term to refer to particular beliefs and practices.
If you are interested in learning about the various religions of the world, you can find a wide range of information online. You can start by reading about the history of the religion and its founders, then move on to studying specific teachings and observances. Ultimately, it is best to learn about a religion from both insiders and outsiders, so you can get an in-depth look at how it functions as a whole. From there, you can begin to shape your own perspective and faith, or decide if a religion is right for you.