Religion is an umbrella term for a set of beliefs and practices associated with the belief in supernatural powers, a sense of reverence, and a sense of morality. These beliefs and practices are generally organized around a particular spiritual leader or group of leaders. These leaders are often referred to as fathers, imams, or prophets and they are usually given the highest status in the religions which they represent.
While there is much debate about what the concept of religion should include, there are a few common elements. Most scholars agree that it should include people’s relationship to that which is sacred, divine, holy, or sacred. This can be seen in the vast array of religious practices, such as sermons, prayer, meditation, holy places, symbols, trances, and feasts. Some religious believers also believe that there is a higher power which they call god or gods and that they are trying to propitiate or please them.
Historically, most attempts to define the term religion have been “monothetic,” meaning that they operate with the classical view that every instance that accurately fits into a category will display a defining property that distinguishes it from other instances. Recently, however, there has been the emergence of “polythetic” approaches to defining religion. Advocates of polythetic definitions argue that the various things called religions do not share a single defining property, but rather they show only a family resemblance.
One of the most influential and complex attempts to define religion came from anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1926-2006). He offered a functional definition of religion, which can be traced back to Emile Durkheim (see Durkheim, Emile ). Essentially, he said that a religion is whatever system of beliefs and practices that functions to unite a group of people into a moral community (whether or not these systems involve belief in unusual realities).