Religion is the belief in a supernatural power or god(s) and the associated practices of worship, such as prayers and devotional reading. Religious faiths can also create a sense of purpose in life, which has been linked to better mental health and even physical wellbeing.
The concept of religion has a long history of debate, particularly over what qualifies as a religion. In the past, scholars have tended to focus on monothetic approaches that operate under the classical view that all members of a class will share one or more characteristics that define them as such. In recent years, however, “polythetic” approaches have emerged that reject the notion that a single definition for religion is possible or that all instances of religion fit into a single category.
For example, as part of a unit on adolescence in the United States, a teacher might ask students to investigate Jewish rites and rituals including bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. Students could research the rites using first-person accounts, articles, or video documentaries and analyze how participation might affect belief or a sense of community.
There are many social functions that religion can serve, such as promoting morality and ethics, reinforcing and stabilizing social order and organization, and providing a source of meaning in life. In contrast, it can also reinforce inequality and other problems, such as xenophobia and racism. There are also many different ways that people use religion to cope with stress and anxiety, such as by praying for protection, believing in miracles, or feeling a spiritual connection with others.