Religion involves a unified system of thoughts, feelings, and actions that gives its followers something or someone to believe in. It also relates to a code of behavior or morality that dictates the ways in which humans should behave toward others. Lastly, it involves beliefs in the supernatural or spiritual—beliefs about forces or powers that are outside of human control.
For a long time, scholars have tried to define religion. In one type of approach, called the formal definition, researchers look for features that appear in all cases. Durkheim favored this method of grouping in his Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912). James was another early proponent, suggesting that religion is a response to what is sacred or holy.
In recent years, the study of religion has seen the emergence of a different kind of definition. This method of grouping, which is more like a functional analysis, involves the attempt to identify the elements that make up a religion. Often, these elements are grouped into four categories: the belief in a supreme being, a set of rites, a sense of community, and a system of values.
These approaches to defining religion have been debated in academic journals, but the concept of religion has remained stubbornly elusive for most people. The study of religion is a challenging subject, but it is rewarding to students who are ready to learn about the diverse worldviews of many cultures. It helps them build skills that they will need in a wide variety of careers. Moreover, studying religion provides the opportunity for students to explore their own beliefs and to develop respect for those who are different from them.