Religion consists of human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. In some traditions, such concerns are embodied in the notions of gods or spirits; in others, they are embodied in ideas about moral conduct and life after death. Typically, religious people also have certain social roles to play and practices to perform.
Most attempts to analyze the nature of Religion have been monothetic, operating with the view that every instance of it must exhibit a particular set of attributes. For example, James G. Frazer regarded religion as a belief in powers higher than man and an attempt to propitiate or please them, an approach that could be called “substantive.”
More recently, however, some scholars have attempted to shed the idea of a fixed essence and define religion as whatever system of beliefs and practices functions as a cohesive force binding a group together into a societal unit. This functional definition can be traced to Emile Durkheim, who defined religion as a unified system of beliefs and practices that unite individuals into a single moral community, whether or not it involves belief in unusual realities.
Advances in sociological research and knowledge of non-European religion have made it possible to develop a more holistic and empirical understanding of Religion. For example, Catherine Albanese has suggested that in addition to the traditional three dimensions of the true, the beautiful, and the good, a fourth dimension can be added: community. This would encompass the role played by a group’s members, their habits, their physical culture, and their social structures.