Religion is a large and diverse class of human social practices and beliefs involving an invisible transcendent power (god, gods, or a supreme being) that provides people with a purpose to live beyond themselves, a means to get in touch with this transcendent power, and a way of dealing with the ultimate problem of death. This purpose is usually articulated in a ‘goal’ of life, such as eternal life in the kingdom of heaven for Christians or the eradication of suffering and attainment of nirvana or nibbana for Buddhists. Religions also provide an analysis of the imperfect nature of human beings and a ‘path’ to enable humans to overcome their flawed, fallen nature.
It is often claimed that religions are universal, but this is untrue. The vast majority of the world’s population belongs to one or another of the world’s 5.5 billion religions, but these do not have to be monotheistic.
In order to categorize religion, scholars use a variety of definitions and approaches. Some define religion as a set of ‘facts’ that are shared across all religious belief systems, some use a functionalist approach, whereby a religion is defined as something that benefits society, and others employ a more substantive or ideological definition. More recently, there has been a reflexive turn in the study of religions as scholars pull back the camera to reveal the constructed character of objects that had previously been taken for granted as unproblematically ‘there’.