Various Definitions of Religion


Author or Source

                                       Suggested Definition

Patrick H. McNamara "Try to define religion and you invite an argument."

American Heritage Dictionary

 "Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe; A particular integrated system of this expression; The spiritual or emotional attitude of one who recognizes the existence of a superhuman power or powers."

John Ayto: Dictionary of Word Origins

"Latin religio originally meant 'obligation, bond.' It was probably derived from the verb religare 'tie back, tie tight' … It developed the specialized sense 'bond between human beings and the gods,' and from the 5th century it came to be used for 'monastic life' ... 'Religious practices' emerged from this, but the word's standard modern meaning did not develop until as recently as the 16th century."

St. Augustine

 "If you do not ask me what time is, I know; if you ask me, I do not know."

Jalalu'l-Din Rumi

 "The lamps are different, but the light is the same."

Thomas Hobbes

 "To say that [God] hath spoken to [someone] in a dream, is no more than to say he dreamed that God spake to him!"

Immanuel Kant

 "Religion is the recognition of all our duties as divine commands."

Ludwig Feuerbach

 "Religion is a dream, in which our own conceptions and emotions appear to us as separate existences, being out of ourselves."

E. B. Tylor

"Belief in spiritual things"

Frederich Nietzsche

"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him."---"What is it: is man only a blunder of God, or God only a blunder of man?"

Emile Durkheim

…"a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden -- beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church all those who adhere to them."

Emile Durkheim #2

"Religion is only the sentiment inspired by the group in its members, but projected outside of the consciousness that experiences them, and objectified."

James G. Frazer

Religion is "a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of Nature and of human life."

Alfred North Whitehead

 "Religion is what an individual does with his solitariness."

William James

 "The very fact that they are so many and so different from one another is enough to prove that the word 'religion' cannot stand for any single principle or essence, but is rather a collective name."

Harriet Martineau

 "Religion is the belief in an ever-living God, that is, in a Divine Mind and Will ruling the Universe and holding moral relations with mankind."

Rudolph Otto

 "Religion is that which grows out of, and gives expression to, experience of the holy in its various aspects."

George Bernard Shaw

 "There is only one religion, though there are hundreds of versions of it."

Sigmund Freud

 "Religion is comparable to childhood neurosis."

John Dewey

 "The religious is any activity pursued on behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of its general and enduring value."

Karl Marx

 "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature... a protest against real suffering... it is the opium of the people... the illusory sun which revolves around man for as long as he does not evolve around himself."

Paul Tillich

 "Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of the meaning of life."


 "The essence of religion consists in the feeling of absolute dependence."


"An institution consisting of culturally patterned interaction with culturally postulated superhuman beings."


"Religion usually has to do with man's relationship to the unseen world, to the world of spirits, demons, and gods. A second element common to all religions … is the term salvation. All religions seek to help man find meaning in a universe which all too often appears to be hostile to his interests. The world salvation means, basically, health. It means one is saved from disaster, fear, hunger, and a meaningless life. It means one is saved for hope, love, security, and the fulfillment of purpose."

J. Miltion Yinger

 "Religion is a system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group of people struggle with the ultimate problem of human life."

Clifford Geertz

  "Religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, persuasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in [people] by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."


 "Religion constitutes our varied human response to transcendent Reality."


 "Religion is that system of activities and beliefs directed toward that which is perceived to be of sacred value and transforming power."


…"an explanation of the meaning of life and how to live accordingly."


Religion is "a set of rituals, rationalized by myth, which mobilizes supernatural powers for the purpose of achieving or preventing transformations of state in man or nature."

Cunningham, et al.

"Religion signifies those ways of viewing the world which refer to (1) a notion of sacred reality (2) made manifest in human experience (3) in such a way as to produce long-lasting ways of thinking, feeling, and acting (4) with respect to problems of ordering and understanding existence."


"An extension of the field of people's social relationships beyond the confines of a purely human society... one in which human beings involved see themselves in a dependent position vis-a-vis their non-human alters…”

Otto Rank "All religion springs, in the last analysis, not so much from fear of natural death as of final destruction."

R. Forrester Church

Religion is "our human response to being alive and having to die…"

Robert Bellah "...a set of symbolic forms and acts that relate man to the ultimate conditions of his existence."
Ernest Becker ..."culture itself is sacred, since it is the 'religion' that assures in some way the perpetuation of its members." "Culture is in this sense 'supernatural,' and all systems of culture have in the end the same goal: to raise men above nature, to assure them that in some ways their lives count in the universe more than merely physical things count."

H. Smith

"Wherever people live, whenever they live, they find themselves faced with three inescapable problems: how to win food and shelter from their natural environment (the problem nature poses), how to get along with one another (the social problem), and how to relate themselves to the total scheme of things (the religious problem). If this third issue seems less important than the other two, we should remind ourselves that religious artifacts are the oldest that archaeologists have discovered."

Schmidt, et al.

"Religions, then, are systems of meaning embodied in a pattern of life, a community of faith, and a worldview that articulate a view of the sacred and of what ultimately matters."

Aldous Huxley

“Religion is the price we pay for being intelligent, but not as yet intelligent enough.”