What Is Religion?

Religion is a cultural system of belief, behavior and ethics that gives people meaning and purpose in their lives. It also provides them with a moral framework that guides their conduct in this world and, in some cases, prepares them for life after death. The term is also used in a more general sense to refer to the set of beliefs about the supernatural.

There are a number of different theories about the nature and origins of Religion. Anthropologists, scientists who study human culture, have found evidence that shows that the earliest humans were religious. Psychologists, scientists who study the mind, have suggested that people turn to Religion to meet emotional and psychological needs, such as a fear of death or a desire for a spiritual experience. Neuroscientists, scientists who study the brain and nervous system, have found that certain parts of the brain can be activated by religious experiences.

Religion on its subjective side is essentially an affair of the will, the will to acknowledge, by acts of homage, man’s dependence on God for help and for a bliss-bringing communion with Him. This will is aided and bolstered by the emotions, which are a natural accompaniment of the recognition of dependence on God. These emotions include hope, joy, confidence, love, patience, humility, the desire for amendment and aspiration towards high ideals. Some philosophers, such as James, have emphasized the affective aspect of Religion and played down (though not denied) the cognitive; others, such as Alfred North Whitehead, have stressed the conative.