What Is a Religion

Scope: Defining religion is more than a lively parlor game; it is critical to understanding one of the most pervasive aspects of human existence. Not surprisingly, definitions of religion disagree even on basic points. Such definitions are important heuristically. They may not capture the essence of the subject, but they can point us toward some true elements. Thus, inadequate definitions in terms of membership, ritual, belief, and morals enable a more adequate definition in terms of a way of life organized around what is perceived as ultimate power. The perception of ultimate power involves religious experience. The organization of life in terms of ritual, doctrine, morals, and fellowship mediates power, while mysticism claims unmediated access to ultimate power.

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