What Is Religion?

Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, practices and ethics. It deals with ultimate concerns that science is not able to answer, such as the meaning of life and what happens after death. It is usually expressed in terms of one or more gods, spirits or supernatural forces and is often accompanied by a belief in a higher power that guides human beings and the world around them. It often has sacred texts, rituals and symbols. It may also involve a clergy or priesthood and a sacred place or special days of celebration. Some scholars have argued that the most basic form of religion is animism, which consists of the belief that all things – animals, plants, rocks, rivers and weather systems, and even words – possess a spiritual essence.

Different religions have different explanations of the origins of their beliefs and rituals. One theory, called the faith-based theory, suggests that religions are a response to inescapable revelations of powers in nature not subject to human control. The human experience of this alienation from the Creator has inspired mythologies and religious responses including worshiping deities, devising ways to communicate with them, and developing a belief that they can be appealed to for help.

Other theories of the role of religion in society suggest that it provides a sense of purpose and identity to people. It reinforces social unity and stability, and can serve as a mechanism for addressing and controlling social problems such as inequality. It can also be a motivation to work for positive social change and an outlet for the emotions.

Religious experiences vary from person to person and are often highly personal and private. This makes it difficult to generalize about what religion is. However, research on religion has shown that it does have significant psychological benefits, such as a reduced likelihood of depression and anxiety, better coping abilities, greater empathy and compassion for others, and greater strength in the face of stress. It is important to recognize that these effects are not related to any specific beliefs or practice but rather to the fact that religion provides a framework for integrating a variety of different coping mechanisms into your daily life.

In addition to its psychological benefits, religion can also provide a support network and a sense of community, as well as a source of moral guidance. This makes it an important factor in the lives of many individuals worldwide, and as such is worthy of scholarly study. For more information about the topic, see the JSTOR Religion database for complete backfiles of core scholarly journals or the Project Muse database for scholarly articles published within the past 3-5 years. You can access both databases from EBSCOhost. Alternatively, you can browse our entire collection of peer-reviewed journals and databases by topic or key word search. You can also use our advanced search options to narrow your results. For more help navigating our database, see our Getting Started guide and FAQ page.