What Is Religion?


Religion consists of a range of social-cultural systems, including designated behaviors and practices, morals, beliefs, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations that generally unite people with regard to the ultimate concerns of life and death.

A study by Sigmund Freud suggests that religion can be a source of comfort and guidance, as well as help humans deal with stress, anxiety and uncertainty. Studies have also shown that people who are religious tend to be healthier than non-religious people, but this may be influenced by their social connections rather than the actual beliefs held by those members of their faith.

There are two main kinds of research on religion: descriptive and normative inquiries. Descriptive inquiries, often referred to as the “explanatory” sciences, typically focus on observable features of religion.

Theological inquiries seek to systemize and interpret the meaning of a particular religion’s beliefs and traditions, as well as its theories of God and other truth claims. These inquiries can involve a wide variety of disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, psychology, political science, and economics, as well as philosophy and theology.

These types of questions are usually answered by theologians or philosophers, but some scholars have developed methods for answering them through the social sciences.

One of the most influential books on this topic is Talal Asad’s Genealogies of Religion (1993), which adopts Michel Foucault’s method of “genealogical” analysis to examine the way in which contemporary anthropology shapes its concept of religion.