Religion Defined

My “final” in this semester’s Religion 580 class was to write a single page defining religion. The first sentence should be our core definition, with the rest of the paper elaborating on that sentence.

I’m not certain I’m comfortable with what I came up with. If nothing else, it put me in mind of the same paper I wrote my freshman year, now six and a half years gone, when we were required to perform the same assignment for Religion 100. As I considered the subject, I felt that my definition had become incredibly pretentious, overly verbose, and had perhaps lost all sight of what religion was. After the years of critical study, commitment to pluralism, and learning about a great many of the world’s religions, I find myself a bit uncertain of what religion is. I look forward to reviewing that old paper someday soon and seeing if my freshman naiveté was in some ways more accurate than what my educated opinions have become.

Religion is both the irrational desire to reconnect with something to which we never felt connected in the first place, and the means by which we seek to transcend our mundane lives and contextualize the world in which we live. Its role in our lives is influenced by our upbringing, psychological moratorium and conclusion, socio-economic situation, political bend, and a number of other mundane factors too complex to chart out. But there seems to be something more to religion, something wholly indefinable that escapes rationality and reason. The very need to reconnect in the first place raises questions that are difficult to answer—from where does this need originate?, what does it signify?, is it common to everyone or limited to certain individuals?—and the existence of religion does not fit comfortably within clearly defined parameters or fields of study. There is an essence to at least some religious belief and action that is simply irrational, defying definition unless one resorts to suggestions of either spiritual influence, mental illness, or duplicity.

To this end, it seems that religion is the very real need to connect with something that escapes classification and definition, and which eludes cogent theorizing. Whether there is a deity or not, and regardless of the numerous mundane factors that might lead to one seeking deity or some other religious ritual, duty, or connection, there is certainly something in humanity that yearns to look outside what we know of our past, the fields of psychology and sociology, the studies of chemistry, biology, and physics, our jobs and the means they provide, and our political party to find something that transcends it all. Despite all we know of this world, the feeling remains with many that there is something greater out there that casts all the rest into question. To find that something, humanity turns to religion.

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