Defining Religion


Religion is a way of life for about a quarter of the world’s population. It encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices, from believing in many different gods to not believing at all. Some of the most widespread religions include Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Other popular religions include Buddhism and Judaism. Many people use religion to cope with life’s big questions, like why we are here and what happens after death.

Trying to define religion is a difficult task. The word itself comes from the Latin religio, which means “scrupulousness” or “devotedness.” Some scholars suggest that religion was created as a response to the realization of mortality, a human capacity that allows us to think about our eventual end. Others believe that humans created religion because of a need to feel a connection with something larger than themselves.

Whatever its origin, religion has become a major force in shaping cultures and societies. Its global reach and influence make it a subject worthy of academic study.

The National Council for the Social Studies is committed to promoting the inclusion of the study of religion in classrooms throughout the United States, both as part of a full range of social studies topics and as an essential component of our civic education.

When it comes to learning about a particular faith, there’s no substitute for a good conversation with a knowledgeable individual from that faith. Whether it’s over coffee, dinner or at your child’s school, talking to someone about their religious beliefs and values is an excellent way to increase your understanding of global complexity.

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