Religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of life and the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural agency, or human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.
The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith or belief system, but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviors, including congregations for prayer, priestly hierarchies, holy places, and/or scriptures.
Academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths, indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific religious groups, and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths.
The development of religion has taken different forms in different cultures. Some religions place greater emphasis on belief, while others emphasize practice. Some religions focus on the subjective experience of the religious individual, while others consider the activities of the community to be most important. Some religions claim to be universal, believing their laws and cosmology to be binding for everyone, while others are intended to be practiced only by one, localized group. Religion often makes use of meditation, music and art. In many places it has been associated with public institutions such as education, the family, government, and political power.
One of the more influential theories of religion today is social constructionism, which says that religion is a modern concept suggesting all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to Christianity; social constructionism suggests that religion, as a concept, has therefore been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures.
Source: "Religion." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 6 Jan. 2011.