A Collection of Articles on Religion

Religion is a system of belief and practice that offers means to achieve some of the most important goals humans can imagine. These goals range from those proximate to this life (a wiser, more fruitful, or charitable, or successful way of living) to those ultimate, and having to do with the final condition of humans and the cosmos itself.

The study of religion is a vast and complex enterprise, and there is no one way to approach it. Some academic approaches have focused on the beliefs, concepts, and symbols that make up a religion. These include the anthropological, phenomenological, and psychological studies of religion that trace their roots to the Enlightenment.

Other scholars, in particular those working within sociology, have turned away from the idea of a unified set of beliefs and practices to focus on what makes a religious form distinctive. For example, Emile Durkheim defined religion as whatever system of practices unite people into a moral community (whether or not these practices involve belief in unusual realities).

Still others have sought to define religion based on its function. Paul Tillich, for instance, described religion as any dominant concern that serves to organize a person’s values (whether or not these concerns involve belief in unusual realities).

A further and important development has been the emergence of an attitude of religious tolerance. This is a set of attitudes that has come to be associated with many of the world’s major religions, and which teaches respect for religious ideas and practices even when they are different from ones own.

This article focuses on the beliefs, concepts, and symbols that are associated with religion. Other articles in this collection discuss the history of religion, including such figures as Hecataeus of Miletus and Herodotus. They also explore the relations between religion and other cultural forms, such as art, architecture, and music; and discuss the influence of religions on such explorations of the cosmos that issued eventually as the natural sciences.

Religions, like the other cultural forms in which they are expressed, are complex and ever-changing. As a result, they are difficult to describe. For some scholars, the problem with offering a definition of religion is that there are always people who will disagree with it. Such disagreements have given rise to the term “deconstruction of religion”, which refers to the process by which scholars use criticism to undermine the authority of a religion. This article will not explore the debate about the definition of religion; rather it will try to offer a sense of the richness and complexity of the subject, and suggest some ways of exploring it further. See also: agnosticism; atheism; Buddhism; deconstruction of religion; dualism; eschatology; hell; heaven; karma; islam; Judaism; judaism; piety; reincarnation; sanctity; scripture; spirit; symbol; ubuntu. Copyright Oxford University Press, 2019. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited except as otherwise permitted by law. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.