Religion is a broad concept in that it encompasses a wide range of beliefs and behaviors. However, there are some core aspects that appear in most religious systems. These include a belief in something sacred, the existence of a higher power or god, and rituals. Other aspects of religion include moral beliefs and behavior, a sense of community, and connections to tradition. Some researchers have also found that religiosity is linked to health and longevity.
A scholarly movement called critical religion seeks to understand how assumptions baked into the concept of religion have distorted our understanding of historical realities. It argues that we cannot understand religion if we limit ourselves to a single definition. In the spirit of Ludwig Wittgenstein, we should instead think of religion as a “family resemblance” concept, a category with many different but co-occurring properties.
Some scholars have gone further, claiming that it is impossible to come up with a meaningful definition for religion. This view suggests that the term is a social construct that came about as a tool of European colonialism. It is a way of categorizing different cultures and practices, but it does not correspond to any reality that is independent of this particular history.
Other scholars have argued that we should not give up on the notion of a common essence for religion, but rather shift the focus to the processes by which people create this classification, and who determines whether a practice is a religion. This approach is often referred to as a “reflexive turn” in sociology, and it has been influential in the fields of cultural studies, political science, and history.