What Is Religion?

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What is religion? Each person’s definition of religion is different. Each person’s faith is different. This is a question that has been asked for centuries, and regardless of the answer given there is no right or wrong answer. Religion can be defined as a group of people who have shared beliefs who feel their life has purpose or meaning. This feeling or belief that their life has meaning can come from outside of themselves, as well as within. Taking this one step further, these shared beliefs put into action in the form of worship, can be easily identified because they happen regularly. It can be said the Primal religions were in fact not religions. Some may argue Confucianism is not a religion. Others may say Taoism is not a religion. However, one argument can be made. All three of these “religions” share “features.” Huston Smith, author of World’s Religions, says “six features of religion appear so regularly as to suggest that their seeds are in the human makeup.” These six features discussed in World’s Religions are as follows: authority, ritual, explanation, tradition, grace, and mystery (World’s, Page 67). First is authority, Smith argues religion is so complex that people will need assistance or guidance from those held in a higher light, or of a higher authority. Next is ritual, which can be happy (a wedding) or sad (a funeral), rituals are shared between people of the same religion in many forms as a sign of common beliefs. Following rituals, some explanation is required. Many of a religion’s followers ask for explanations, some ask, “What is my purpose in life?” Others may ask, “Who is God?” Depending on one’s religion, the questions or

Defining Religion-3

explanations wanted will differ; however, ...

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...ccording to it. It is the level of understanding and respect a Taoist has with nature, everyone around them, and everything. This mystery is the last feature that is important to defining a religion.

Primal Religions, Confucianism, and Taoism share three features that are discussed by Smith and shared with many religions. Those features are authority, tradition, and mystery. Without these three features it would be hard to define any of the above as religions. As a whole religion is difficult to define, there is not any one correct definition. Enlightening one’s mind and opening one’s heart will allow one to define religion as well as feel it.

Smith, Huston. World’s Religions: A Guide to our Wisdom Traditions. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994.

Van Voorst, Robert E. Anthology of World Scriptures. Belmont: Thomas Wadsworth, 2006.
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