This is a great question, but a very difficult task. As you might know definition are notoriously difficult to construct in a world as complex as ours. People from around the world will have differing opinions of what is and what is not a part of religion. Augustine said is best: "We know what religion is until someone asks us to define it."
The best that we can do is give a general definition of anything, which includes religion. For more thoughts on this topic, you have to read Wittgenstein on his theory of family resemblances.
In light of this point, I would say that a good general definition of religion is as follows:
Religion is the belief and worship of a supernatural being or beings.
Others have given different definitions. Here is a short sampling:
"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature... It is the opiate of the people."
Peter Berger - the great sociologist:
"Religion is the human attitude towards a sacred order - that includes within it all being—human or otherwise—i.e., belief in a cosmos, the meaning of which both includes and transcends man."
Origin of the word Religion as found in John Ayto:Dictionary of Word Origins:
"Latin religio originally meant 'obligation, bond.' It was probably derived from the verb religare 'tie back, tie tight' � It developed the specialized sense 'bond between human beings and the gods,' and from the 5th century it came to be used for 'monastic life' ... 'Religious practices' emerged from this, but the word's standard modern meaning did not develop until as recently as the 16th century."
Religion as defined in American Heritage Dictionary:
"Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe; A particular integrated system of this expression; The spiritual or emotional attitude of one who recognizes the existence of a superhuman power or powers."
In the above definition the important points present in it are as follows:
- Belief in a the creator of the universe , i.e. someone who created the whole universe.
- Belief in a higher power, i.e someone who has supreme authority over the universe.
Apart from this definition there are others as well which are broadly written and contain practices or other areas of study that otherwise are not considered religious.
I am giving below my thoughts on definition of religion. These thoughts are based on my observations and personal knowledge of some religions. It is not based on any theoretical study of religion.
A religion may be defines a s set of guidelines for Individual behavior that is aimed to maximize the good of the entire society. A typical religion has the following characteristics.
- It identifies one or more super power - or gods - that control the conduct and destiny of the entire universe.
- It recommends worship of or service to these Gods as a means of achieving ones objectives. There is considerable difference in the objectives promoted as worthwhile objectives by different religions. These range for simple worldly pleasure through love and honor to self actualization and ultimately release from the cycle of death and rebirth.
- It frequently offers reward and punishment after death for our actions during lifetime.
- It has some ritualistic practices associated with it. These practices serve many different purposes such as bringing people of the religion close together, providing a means of popularizing the religion and its ideas among people, establishing the authority of the gods or the leaders of the religion, collecting resources for the conduct of religious activities or for the benefit of the religious leaders, conducting symbolic or actual action in line with ways promoted by the religion.n many cases the ritual once established continue even when the cease to serve their original objective.