What Is Religion?
Religion refers to any belief or practice that a person holds sacred or considers spiritually significant. People use religious narratives, symbols, and traditions to create meaning in their lives and to understand the universe. Religion has been a part of human life since the beginning of recorded history, and most of the world’s cultures have some form of religion.
Sociologists have used a variety of tools to study the role that religion plays in culture and society. For example, studies have found that people who are more religious tend to have stronger family ties, be more likely to volunteer and donate money, and are more satisfied with their lives than those who do not believe in God or follow any particular religion. Despite the many benefits that can come from being religious, many people have doubts about organized religion and do not feel a need to formally affiliate with any particular group.
Many scholars have argued that the concept of religion is a social construct and that it has been created by social power structures. Emile Durkheim, for instance, used a functional approach to explain how religion serves certain social needs, such as creating solidarity among people with the same beliefs and values.
More recently, a number of scholars have taken what is sometimes called a “reflexive turn” in their study of religion. They have pulled the camera back and examined how what is considered to be religion shifts depending on one’s definition of the term. They argue that the fact that a specific religion can be defined as not being a true religion shows how arbitrary the whole concept is.