Defining Religion

We are posed to define the term religion and assert several points which affect the defining process as well as to analyze their influences upon the development of our definition. Religion as its very nature exhibits often reveals dissimilar characteristics to different groups and in order to accurately characterize it would command a thorough analysis of the practitioners themselves. Connelly (1996) in his presentation entitled “definition of religion and related terms”, readily confesses that scholars have difficult times in proposing a suitable definition. In their quote, Cunningham & Kelsey, (2010), stated, “Religion cannot stand for any single principle or essence” (Pg. 13). However, as an academic endeavor we will create a valid means of identification.

As acknowledged within the confines of a good religious basics textbook, we see several guidelines which we can revise towards our potential definition. The text remarks that religion relates to “thought, feelings and actions” (Cunningham, Kelsay, 2010, p. 13). With this clearly in mind let’s briefly consider each of these points.


Thought as measured within this aspect would gracefully embrace the word “Belief”. We as the appraising faction would need to deliberate as to what a particular group of religious opponents might believe. Do they acknowledge as true the concept of one god as most monotheism based religions encapsulate? Or perhaps their beliefs encompass multiple deities such as we discover in several pagan or Wiccan viewpoints. We can relate a long procession of detailed beliefs under this heading and each would be vital towards defining a specific religion. It is apparent that we can not have an established religion without thought (Cunningham, Kelsay, 2010, p. 13). In short, religion attempts to impart order where no order previously existed in an attempt to make sense of our unknown surroundings and environment (Connelly, 1996).


As stated within his book entitled, “The Christian Faith”, Friedrich Schleiermacher known as the father of modern theology, identified religion as a “feeling of absolute dependence” (Schleiermacher, 1922). With this concept laid upon the table we see the concept of faith entering the picture as well. If we are so dependent upon a particular set of beliefs or feelings than we would have to base our thoughts upon faith that the unverified beliefs are true and not misleading us.


Of all the traits for our definitions which affect others, actions would have to be at the top of our list. Actions to me take into consideration both thought and feelings and merge them into one trait – action. Within the particular religious beliefs “actions” would account for the followers unwavering ability to follow the “Words of God” without second guessing its intent or purpose. As provided within our text “Religion… is not only a matter of what people believe but… what people do…” (Cunningham, Kelsay, 2010, p. 15). This is action in the purest sense. Actions result from thought when the individual decides to accomplish something relating to their beliefs and it involves strong feelings towards the value of their actions.


Cunningham, L.S.; Kelsay, J., 2010. The Sacred Quest: An Invitation to the Study of Religion, 5th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc

Connelly, Paul, (1996). Definition of religion and related terms. Retrieved from

Schleiermacher, Friedrich (1922). The christian faith in outline. Retrieved from

Source by Joseph Parish

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