The Definition and History of Religion
Religion is an umbrella term encompassing several theories, some religious, some non-religious. Religion can be defined by its practitioners as a system of thought that has evolved with time, with particular focus on the behavior of humankind toward each other and toward the world at large. Theologians would say that religion is a set of ideas, practices, thoughts, values, rituals, and institutions developed over time with particular focus on the behavior of humankind toward each other and toward the external environment. It may also be defined as the attempt to understand the relationship between God and human beings through an unfolding of divine experience in which God’s truth is unfolded. Religions may also have their roots in earlier forms of spirituality such as asceticism, monasticism, and pantheism.
At this point we may ask ourselves, what are the dimensions of religion? Within a broad perspective that includes both belief and non-belief, religion can be viewed as a system of value involving ritual, philosophy, symbolism, knowledge, authority, ritual practice, and interpersonal relationships. Religion may also be viewed as a cultural and social system of normatively ordered behaviors and beliefs, moral codes, values, beliefs, worldviews, sacred places, prophesies, practices, and rituals, which humans have developed through time with significant cultural influence from surrounding cultures and periods.
Some religions have had a very far-reaching effect on human societies, while others have been more localized, with certain groups having much more control over societal policies and practices. Most religions share some common components, such as a belief in a higher power, a creator, a spirit, a god, and a moral code for humans to follow. Some also share common characteristics, such as the need for a higher power or deities, rituals, and the idea that divine guidance is necessary for the workings of humanity. However, these shared aspects among many religions are not essential for understanding all religions; indeed some can be viewed as offering a more personalized means of religious expression and interaction. What remains important is an ability to understand the individual essence of individual religions within a larger framework of socio-religious interaction.