Religion is a system of belief and conduct that binds together a community of believers with common values. It usually involves devotion to a particular god or spirit, but may also deal with supernatural forces or concepts. It commonly aims to answer questions that science cannot address, such as the meaning of life or what happens after death. It often does this through rituals and practices, sacred texts or scriptures, a priesthood that oversees it, and places, symbols, days and times that are considered holy.
Because of the great diversity among cultural traditions, no single definition of religion exists. The modern concept of religion evolved from a series of reactions to the need for a systematic, comparative study of various beliefs and practices. Some of these aimed to criticize or defend particular systems, while others sought to interpret them in accordance with scientific methods of investigation.
Despite this complexity, some scholars have attempted to find a unified theory of religion. They have generally tried to understand the concept of religion as a social taxon, with a set of necessary and sufficient properties that distinguish it from other cultural types. The most commonly cited theories of religion are those of Emil Durkheim and Paul Tillich. Durkheim’s definition turns on the function of creating solidarity in a group; Tillich’s relates it to the way that dominant concerns organize a person’s values.
These approaches can be contrasted with more neutral descriptions of religion, which have become the norm for most contemporary discussion. These describe religion as a phenomenon that appears in every society, and that functions to some degree to unify communities and provide an explanation for their values and behaviors. The emphasis on neutral description may seem avant garde, but it is a response to the tendency to treat religious phenomena as “true” or “false.”
If your child is between the ages of seven and eight, you can use this article as a starting point for discussions about faith and spirituality with them. Encourage them to think about what they believe, but don’t be pushy or push them to any specific conclusions. At this age, they are likely to be most interested in learning about the beliefs of other people around the world and how those beliefs differ from their own. They may even like to compare their own views with those of their extended family. This is an excellent time to teach about the importance of tolerance.