Religion is a unified system of thoughts, feelings, and actions that gives people something sacred to believe in, a cause to fight for, and a code by which they may judge their own and other people’s behaviors. It usually deals with what is often called the supernatural or spiritual—forces and powers beyond human control. Religion also creates worlds of order and entertainment, and offers ways to cope with the anxieties of life and death.
The concept of religion was derived from the Latin religio, meaning “scrupulousness”, “devotion”, or “felt obligation”. Early on, it was used to describe an individual’s attitude towards his or her gods, and later, as a group commitment to a way of worship.
Attempts to define religion have typically involved single criterion monothetic definitions, such as Edward Tylor’s minimal definition that religion consists of belief in spiritual beings or Paul Tillich’s functional definition that religion consists of whatever dominant concern serves to organize a person’s values (whether or not it involves belief in any unusual realities). While this approach has its place in the study of religion, it has not been helpful in developing a common sense of the nature of the term.
Since the rise of the modern discipline of religion, scholars have brought the methods and concepts of anthropology, history, philosophy, sociology, psychology, philology, literature, and many other disciplines to bear on its study. But no consensus has emerged about the best way to understand religion. This is partly because the academic study of religion is a mixture of descriptive and historical inquiries with normative inquiries, which involve questions about the truth of religious claims or the acceptability of certain values.