Religion is the name given to a wide range of belief systems, practices, and attitudes. These can be thought of as a collection of beliefs, values, and behaviors related to the existence and/or role of a transcendent God or gods in human life. It also includes a wide variety of perspectives on truth, Scripture, behavior, and salvation. It is a concept that is central to many anthropological, religious, and cultural studies fields, including anthropology, sociology, philosophy, history, psychology, and most recently cognitive science.
The question of how to define religion is a central issue in the field, and has a major impact on research methods. One approach is to use an open polythetic approach, with a set of properties that are used as criteria to determine whether something is religious or not. This approach allows for flexibility and can be useful in finding unexpected associations or patterns of religious phenomena. However, some scholars feel that this approach risks allowing too much variation and can leave the category open to the creation of any activity as being religious (see definitional issues).
Another approach is to try to find a definition that captures the essence of religion. This strategy is often based on functionalist theories of religion, such as Durkheim’s (1912) definition, which focuses on the function of creating solidarity or Tillich’s (1957) definition based on the axiological function of arousing “mysterium tremendum et fascinans,” i.e., the experience of a numinous Other that is both terrifying and fascinating.