Religion is the name given to people’s beliefs and practices concerning something regarded as sacred or ultimate. It includes the belief in a supreme being or gods, spirits, and supernatural powers and in the existence of an afterlife, but also beliefs and practices that have less overtly religious content such as humanism or naturalism.
The term can be defined in a variety of ways, including a fundamentalist definition that defines it as a system of beliefs that claims to have the truth and a unique method of knowing it. This definition has been criticized because it excludes many beliefs and practices that are important for some people. A second definition is a functional one that defines it as a way that a social group creates solidarity. This view was originally proposed by Emile Durkheim and it was later embraced by Paul Tillich.
A third view that is becoming more common is to define religion as the unified set of thoughts, feelings, and actions that give individuals a focus for their life and hope for their future, and that provides them with an objective moral code and spiritual guidance. It can also include a search for an ultimate meaning in life and the need to belong to a community that shares their values.
The concept of religion has developed throughout history. It grew out of curiosity about the great questions of life and death and the need to address fear of uncontrollable forces. Eventually it became a source of hope for immortality or life after death, a kind creator who would watch over humanity, and an objective moral code.