Religion is a term used to describe any of a number of practices that people follow for a variety of reasons. It can be a source of comfort and guidance, a basis for moral beliefs and behaviors, or a way to connect with tradition.
It can also be an important factor in the social and economic development of a society. There is a wide range of research that suggests that people who practice certain religions have better health and higher life expectancy than others.
The definition of religion has evolved over time and has changed from being a term for scrupulous devotion to referring to a variety of social practices. This has resulted in a confusion over what is counted as a religion.
One approach to the definition of religion is a “substantive” definition. This approach determines membership in the category by determining whether or not the practice is distinctively religious in a way that involves belief in a distinctive kind of reality.
Another approach is a “functional” definition. This approach determines membership in this category by determining whether or not the practice serves a specific function in the life of the practitioner.
The functional approach is best seen in the works of Emile Durkheim (1912), who defines religion as whatever system of practices unite a number of people into a single moral community (whether or not those practices involve belief in any unusual realities). This functional definition turns on a social function that is not necessarily related to the presence of a particular kind of reality, but is nonetheless important for a group’s ability to make sense of its world.