A religion is a set of common beliefs and practices generally
held by a group of people, often codified as prayer, ritual, and
religious law. Religion also
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encompasses ancestral or cultural
traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith
and mystic experience. The term "religion" refers to both the personal
practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and
communication stemming from shared conviction.
Religion has been defined in a wide variety of ways. Most definitions
attempt to find a balance somewhere between overly sharp definition and
meaningless generalities. Some sources have tried to use formalistic,
doctrinal definitions while others have emphasized experiential,
emotive, intuitive, valuational and ethical factors.
Sociologists and anthropologists tend to see religion as an abstract
set of ideas, values, or experiences developed as part of a cultural
matrix. For example, in Lindbeck's Nature of Doctrine, religion does
not refer to belief in "God" or a transcendent Absolute. Instead,
Lindbeck defines religion as, "a kind of cultural and/or linguistic
framework or medium that shapes the entirety of life and thought… it
is similar to an idiom that makes possible the description of
realities, the formulation of beliefs, and the experiencing of inner
attitudes, feelings, and sentiments.” According to this definition,
religion refers to one's primary worldview and how this dictates one's
thoughts and actions.
Other religious scholars have put forward a definition of religion
that avoids the reductionism of the various sociological and
psychological disciplines that reduce religion to its component
factors. Religion may be defined as the presence of a belief in the
sacred or the holy. For example Rudolf Otto's "The Idea of the Holy,"
formulated in 1917, defines the essence of religious awareness as awe,
a unique blend of fear and fascination before the divine. Friedrich
Schleiermacher in the late 18th century defined religion as a "feeling
of absolute dependence."