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How Religion Affects Our Daily Lives

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Religion is a complex phenomenon, with many different forms. Yet there is a sense in which it is one of the most distinctive features of human culture. The world is dotted with religious communities, and most people have some sort of affiliation. Religion has a great deal of influence on the lives of individuals, as well as on societies. However, it can also be a source of great conflict and stress. It is important to understand the various religions, and how they affect our daily lives.

What does it mean to be religious?

It is commonly viewed as a person’s relationship to that which is regarded as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or otherwise worthy of special reverence. In some religions, this is expressed in terms of belief in gods or spirits; in others, it is in terms of a person’s relation to or attitudes toward the broader human community or the natural world.

Some scholars have tended to define religion in purely substantive terms, using beliefs or practices as the criterion for a religious stance. For example, Edward Tylor argued that one could only consider something as a religion if it involved belief in spiritual beings. Emile Durkheim took a similar approach, viewing religion as whatever system of beliefs and practices united a group of people into a moral community (irrespective of whether they believed in any unusual realities).

Other scholars have opted for a functional definition of religion, viewing it as something that enables humans to live together. They have argued that, because humans are inherently social creatures, the existence of religion is inevitable. However, there are problems with defining religion in this way. One of the key issues is that it is often difficult to identify what role a particular system of beliefs and practices plays in a given individual’s life, or what effect it has on their behavior.

A third way to view religion is as a set of institutions and disciplinary practices that enable people to organize their lives in accordance with particular values. This involves a process of valuing and evaluating phenomena in their environment, and of communicating that valuation to other members of the community. The institution may have a broad scope, extending perhaps to the borders of a village; or it may be restricted to a select number of practitioners such as priests, witches, shamans, gurus, imams, rabbis, monks, and nuns.

Reflexive scholars have criticized all three of these approaches, arguing that to regard religion as an institution or a set of disciplinary practices merely reframes the question of what it is that religiosity does. Furthermore, they have argued that to focus on the nature of religious institutions and disciplinary practices obscures the fact that they are constructs, created and imposed by humans. In addition, they have argued that to see things like magic or art as religious simply reflects a Protestant bias in scholarship. However, these arguments are not without merit.

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