Religion is the set of beliefs and practices that people use to cope with life’s stresses, and to explain the world they live in. It includes a belief in the existence of God or gods, and often has strong ethical and moral principles that guide people’s lives. Religions also have a strong sense of community. They tend to provide an opportunity for individuals to find meaning in life and to develop a positive outlook on the future. They can also help people deal with adversity, illness, death and loss.
Some philosophers have used religion as the starting point for philosophical reflection on a wide range of topics. This includes such topics as agnosticism, atheism, theism and monotheism; the problem of evil; the nature of God; religious experience; the soul; heaven, hell and the afterlife. In addition, many philosophers who have not specifically addressed the question of God have nevertheless made important contributions to philosophy of religion. These include Alfred North Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, John Rawls, Bernard Williams, Hilary Putnam, Derek Parfit and Thomas Nagel.
The word “religion” comes from the Latin religio, which refers to a person’s relationship with that which they consider to be holy or sacred, absolute or spiritual; it can also refer to their attitudes toward the human community and the natural world. Thus the concept of religion encompasses a variety of practices that vary widely in their specifics, and one may wonder whether it is meaningful to talk about them as part of a social taxon such as culture or literature.
In antiquity, there were several attempts to define religion. The most commonly recognized definition of religion is a belief-centred one, whereby people who believe in God or gods are deemed to be religious. This view ignores the fact that many people who believe in things such as Buddhism or Ethical Humanism are indeed religious, and it is therefore an inaccurate way of thinking about religion.
In the twentieth century, some scholars have questioned whether the concept of religion is a valid one at all. They argue that social kinds exist without the need for a label, and that it is only in modern times that humans have created the concept of religion in order to categorize cultural types. The idea that religion is a social construct has had a profound effect on the work of many philosophers, including Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre and Luce Irigaray. However, this debate is not yet resolved. Moreover, some philosophers who would not normally be considered to be philosophers of religion have taken up issues about religion, including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In addition, it is worth noting that the study of religion has a long history in the sciences. These studies have included investigations of the effects of different religions on a person’s life, which have yielded some impressive benefits for society and individual health. These include better learning, health, economic well-being, self-control, confidence and empathy; and they reduce the incidence of certain social pathologies such as out-of-wedlock births, crime and delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse and mental disorders.