What is “Religion”?


According to Living Religions, The word is probably derived from the Latin, meaning ‘to tie back,to tie again.’ All of religion shares the goal of tying people back to something behind the surface of life a greater reality, which lies beyond, or invisibly infuses, the world that we can perceive with our five senses. (Living Religions, 2)

Some Definitions of Religion to Consider

1.      “[Religion is] the belief in Spiritual Beings” (Edward B Tylor, Primitive Culture)

2.      “By religion, then, I understand a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of nature and of human life” (James George Frazer, The Golden Bough).

3.      “[Religion is] the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” (William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience)

4.      “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.” (b) [Religion is] “the self-validation of a society by means of myth and ritual.” (Émile Durkeim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life)

5.      “[Religion is] “the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary, and a concern that in itself provides the answer to the question of the meaning of our existence.” (Paul Tillich)

6.      “[Religion is] a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, persuasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations...by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” (Clifford Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System”)

7.      “Religion, like culture, is a symbolic transformation of experience.” (Thomas F. O'Dea, The Sociology of Religion)

8.      “[Religion is] a system of symbols (creed, code, cultus) by means of which people (a community) orient themselves in the world with reference to both ordinary and extraordinary powers, meanings, and values.” (Catherine L. Albanese, America: Religions and Religion)

9.      “Religion is a means to ultimate transformation.” (Frederick Streng, Understanding Religious Life)

10.  [Religion is] a means of ultimate transformation and/or orientation.” (Joseph Adler, “Varieties of Spiritual Experience: Shen in Neo-Confucian Discourse”)

11.  A religious tradition has at least three essential elements, each handed down and developed in the multitude of ways traditions transmit. One element is a mythic, philosophical, or theological cosmology defining the fundamental structures and limits of the world and forming the basic ways in which cultures and individuals imagine how things are and what they mean....
A second essential element of religion is ritual. Rituals are a finite set of repeatable and symbolizable actions that epitomize things a tradition takes to be crucial to defining the normative human place in the cosmos. Early layers of ritual epitomize the hunt, nurturing of agricultural fertility, acknowledgment of political authority (worship of gods as lords), acts of commitment to other individuals, and so forth....
The third essential element is that a tradition have some conception and practical procedures for fundamental transformation aimed to relate persons harmoniously to the normative cosmological elements, a path of spiritual perfection. In theisms this usually means salvation, a right relation to God. In Buddhism it means transformative enlightenment about the truth of change and suchness…. (Robert Cummings Neville, in Foreword to Rodney L. Taylor, The Religious Dimensions of Confucianism)


According to the 1990 edition of the Cambridge Encyclopedia, “no single definition will suffice to encompass the varied sets of traditions, practices, and ideas which constitute different religions” (religioustolerance.org), in which case it may simply be impossible to develop a universally acceptable definition of religion. Mark E. Hanshaw suggests a potential solution to this problem by focusing on commonly occurring attributes of religious traditions, such as:
  • Belief in a supernatural intelligent being;
  • Complex worldview interpreting the significance of human life;
  • Belief in some sort of afterlife experience;
  • A moral code;
  • Account of the nature and origin of evil;
  • Ritual practices;
  • Revealed truths;
  • A mythological tradition; and
  • An institutionalized social community constructed around these and other priorities.
From this perspective, a tradition that possesses most of these attributes could be classified as a religion, while the absence of one or two attributes might not prevent a tradition from being regarded as a religion. (Religion in the Midst of Life, Chapter 1, Section 2)

Are the Japanese Religious?


What is “Religious Pluralism”?

Are the Japanese “Religious Pluralists”?
(And if so, does this mean the same to them as it does to us?)