Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, values and practices. It is usually centered on a supernatural entity or group of entities and includes worship, ethical guidance and a sense of purpose. It is an important source of morality and a significant contributor to mental well-being, particularly for those who feel they have a higher power or are guided by ethical principles in their daily lives. People who belong to a religion also often enjoy a sense of community and social support.
A number of different views on what counts as a religion have been proposed. Emile Durkheim’s functional approach focuses on the role of religion in creating solidarity amongst people and the way that it provides a framework for organizing a person’s values (whether or not they involve belief in unusual realities). Another functionalist view, developed by Paul Tillich, defines religion as whatever dominant concern serves to organize a person’s values.
There are also a number of substantive approaches to religion. One of the most popular is the view that religion consists of human beings’ relations with that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual or divine. In some traditions this is expressed as a belief in disembodied spirits; in others it is a faith in the natural world or an idea of human nature.
Many scholars criticize this view for focusing on human subjectivity while neglecting the material culture that gives rise to it. However, there are also realists who believe that the concept of religion can still be characterized as an aspect of reality. For example, Clifford Geertz argues that people’s beliefs and actions are meaningful and therefore have religious properties.