Religious scholars generally agree that writing a single definition that applies to all religions is difficult or even impossible, because all people examine religion with some kind of critical eye, and the term is therefore fraught with ideological consequences for anyone who might want to construct a universal definition. Talal Asad writes that "there cannot be a universal definition of religion ... because that definition is itself the historical product of discursive processes". It is these processes themselves which make up the category we see today as "religion".
The word "religion" as it is used today does not have an obvious pre-colonial translation into non-European languages. The history of other cultures' interaction with the religious category is therefore their interaction with an idea that first developed in Europe under the influence of Christianity.
Religion and the body politic
A good understanding of the meaning of Christianity before the word "religion" came into common usage can be found in St. Augustine's writing. For Augustine, Christianity was a disciplina, a "rule" just like that of the Roman Empire. Christianity was therefore a power structure opposing and superseding human institutions, a literal Kingdom of Heaven. Rather than calling one to self-discipline through symbols, it was itself the discipline taught by one's family, school, church, and city authorities. However at this point the root of the English word "religion", the Latinreligio, was in use only to mean "reverence for God or the gods, careful pondering of divine things, piety" (which Cicero further derived to mean "diligence"); in other words, there was no sense of a "system" nor even of the Christian power structure but only of spirituality. Max MÃ¼ller characterized many other cultures around the world, including Egypt, Persia, and India, as having a similar power structure at this point in history. What we would call religion today, they would only call "law".
As Christianity became commonplace, the charismatic authority identified by Augustine, a quality we might today call "religiousness", had a commanding influence at the local level. This system persisted in the Byzantine Empire following the East-West Schism, while Western Europe regulated unpredictable expressions of charisma through the Roman Catholic Church. However, as the Church lost its dominance during the Protestant Reformation and Christianity became closely tied to political structures, religion was recast as the basis of national sovereignty, and religious identity gradually became a less universal sense of spirituality and more divisive, locally defined, and tied to nationality. It was at this point that "religion" was dissociated with universal beliefs and moved closer to dogma in both meaning and practice. However there was not yet the idea of dogma as personal choice, only of established churches.
In the Age of Enlightenment, the idea of Christianity as the purest expression of spirituality was supplanted by the concept of "religion" as a worldwide practice. This caused such ideas as religious freedom, a reexamination of classical philosophy as an alternative to Christian thought, and more radically Deism among intellectuals such as Voltaire. Much like Christianity, the idea of "religious freedom" was exported around the world as a civilizing technique, even to regions like India that had never treated spirituality as a matter of political identity. In Japan, where Buddhism was still seen as a philosophy of natural law, the concept of "religion" and "religious freedom" as separate from other power structures was unnecessary until Christian missionaries demanded free access to conversion, and when Japanese Christians refused to engage in patriotic events.
With the Enlightenment religion lost its attachment to nationality, but rather than being a universal social attitude, it was now a personal feeling, or emotion. Friedrich Schleiermacher in the late 18th century defined religion as das schlechthinnige AbhÃ¤ngigkeitsgefÃ¼hl, commonly translated as "a feeling of absolute dependence". His contemporary Hegel disagreed thoroughly, defining religion as "the Divine Spirit becoming conscious of Himself through the finite spirit." Â William James is an especially notable 19th century subscriber to the theory of religion as feeling.
Specific religious movements
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the academic practice of comparative religion divided religious belief into philosophically-defined categories called "world religions." However, some recent scholarship has argued that not all types of religion are necessarily separated by mutually exclusive philosophies, and furthermore that the utility of ascribing a practice to a certain philosophy, or even calling a given practice religious, rather than cultural, political, or social in nature, is limited. The list of religious movements given here is an attempt to summarize the most important regional and philosophical influences, but it is by no means a complete description of every religious community.
Abrahamic religions are practiced throughout the world. They share in common the Jewish patriarch Abraham and the Torah as an initial sacred text, although the degree to which the Torah is incorporated into religious beliefs varies between traditions.
Judaism accepts only the prophets of the Torah, but also relies on the authority of rabbis. It is practiced by the Jewish people, an ethnic group currently centered in Israel but also scattered throughout the Jewish diaspora. Today, Jews are outnumbered by Christians and Muslims.
The BahÃ¡'Ã Faith was founded in the 19th century in Iran and since then has spread worldwide. It teaches unity of all religious philosophies and accepts all of the prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well as additional prophets including its founder BahÃ¡'u'llÃ¡h.
Jainism, taught primarily by Parsva (9th century BCE) and Mahavira (6th century BCE), is an ancient Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence for all forms of living beings in this world. Jains are found mostly in India.
Theravada Buddhism, which is practiced mainly in Southeast Asia alongside folk religion, shares some characteristics of Indian religions. It is based in a large collection of texts called the Pali Canon.
Folk religion is a term applied loosely and vaguely to disorganized local practices. It is also called paganism, shamanism, animism, ancestor worship, and totemism, although not all of these elements are necessarily present in local belief systems. The category of "folk religion" can generally include anything that is not part of an organization. The modern neopagan movement draws on folk religion for inspiration.
Chinese folk religion, practiced by Chinese people around the world, is a primarily social practice including popular elements of Confucianism and Taoism, with some remnants of Mahayana Buddhism. Most Chinese do not identify as religious due to the strong Maoist influence on the country in recent history, but adherence to religious ceremonies remains common. New religious movements include Falun Gong and I-Kuan Tao.
Traditional Korean religion was a syncretic mixture of Mahayana Buddhism and Korean shamanism. Unlike Japanese Shinto, Korean shamanism was never codified and Buddhism was never made a social necessity. In some areas these traditions remain prevalent, but Korean-influenced Christianity is far more influential in society and politics.
Traditional Japanese religion is a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism and ancient indigenous practices which were codified as Shinto in the 19th century. Japanese people retain nominal attachment to both Buddhism and Shinto through social ceremonies, but irreligion is common.
A variety of new religious movements still practiced today have been founded in many other countries besides the United States and Japan, including Cao ÄÃ i in Vietnam.
ShinshÅ«kyÅ is a general category for a wide variety of religious movements founded in Japan since the 19th century. These movements share almost nothing in common except the place of their founding. The largest religious movements centered in Japan include Soka Gakkai, Tenrikyo, and Seicho-No-Ie among hundreds of smaller groups.
Buddhism is a religion or spiritual philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha (Pali/Sanskrit "the awakened one"). Adherents recognize the Buddha as an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering, achieve nirvana, and escape what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth. However, Buddhist schools disagree over the historical teachings of the Buddha, and on the importance and canonicity of various scriptures.
Two major branches of Buddhism are recognized: Theravada ("The School of the Elders") and Mahayana ("The Great Vehicle"). Theravada, the oldest surviving, has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, whilst Mahayana, which is found throughout East Asia, includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, Tendai and Shinnyo-en. In some classifications, a third branch, Vajrayana, is recognized, although many see this as an offshoot of the Mahayana. Other movements have appeared in recent times, sometimes classified as Buddhist modernism.
While Buddhism remains most popular within Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world. Various sources put the number of Buddhists in the world at between 230 million and 500 million.
The foundation of all Buddhist practice is ethical conduct and altruism. Further practices can vary widely, but may include renunciation, meditation, the cultivation of mindfulness and wisdom, the study of scriptures, physical exercises, devotion and ceremonies, or the invocation of bodhisattvas
Christianity (from the Greek word XÏÎ¹ÏÏÏÏ, Khristos, "Christ", literally "anointed one") is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament.
Christians believe Jesus is the son of God, God having become man and the savior of humanity. Christians, therefore, commonly refer to Jesus as Christ or Messiah.
Adherents of the Christian faith, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Bible (the part of scripture common to Christianity and Judaism). The foundation of Christian theology is expressed in the early Christian ecumenical creeds, which contain claims predominantly accepted by followers of the Christian faith. These professions state that Jesus suffered, died from crucifixion, was buried, and was resurrected from the dead to open heaven to those who believe in him and trust him for the remission of their sins (salvation). They further maintain that Jesus bodily ascended into heaven where he rules and reigns with God the Father. Most denominations teach that Jesus will return to judge all humans, living and dead, and grant eternal life to his followers. He is considered the model of a virtuous life, and both the revealer and physical incarnation of God. Christians call the message of Jesus Christ the Gospel ("good news") and hence refer to the earliest written accounts of his ministry as gospels.
Christianity began as a Jewish sect and is classified as an Abrahamic religion. Originating in the eastern Mediterranean, it quickly grew in size and influence over a few decades, and by the 4th century had become the dominant religion within the Roman Empire.
During the Middle Ages, most of the remainder of Europe was Christianized, with Christians also being a (sometimes large) religious minority in the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of India. Following the Age of Discovery, through missionary work and colonization, Christianity spread to the Americas, Australasia, and the rest of the world, therefore Christianity is a major influence in the shaping of Western civilization.
As of the early 21st century, Christianity has between 1.5 billion and 2.1 billion adherents. Christianity represents about a quarter to a third of the world's population and is the world's largest religion. In addition, Christianity is the state religion of several countries.
Islam (Arabic: Ø§al-âislÄm, is the religion articulated by the Qurâan, a book considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of the single incomparable God (Arabic: Â AllÄh), and by the Islamic prophetMuhammad's demonstrations and real-life examples (called the Sunnah, collected through narration of his companions in collections of Hadith). The word Islam is a homograph, having multiple meanings, and a triliteral of the word salaam, which directly translates as peace. Other meanings include submission, or the total surrender of oneself to God (see Islam (term)).
An adherent of Islam is a Muslim, meaning "one who submits (to God)". The word Muslim is the participle of the same verb of which IslÄm is the infinitive. Muslims regard their religion as the completed and universal version of a monotheistic faith revealed at many times and places before, including, notably, to the prophetsAbraham, Moses and Jesus. Islamic tradition holds that previous messages and revelations have been changed and distorted over time.
Religious practices include the Five Pillars of Islam, which are five duties that unite Muslims into a community. Islamic law (Arabic: Å arÄ«Ê¿ah) touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, encompassing everything from dietary laws and banking to warfare, welfare, and Jihad. The vast majority of Muslims belong to one of two major denominations, the Sunni (87-90%) and Shi'a (10-13%).
Islam is the predominant religion in much of Africa, the Middle East and major parts of Asia. Large communities are also found in China, Russia and the Caribbean. About 13% of Muslims live in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, 31% in the Indian Subcontinent, and 20% in Arab countries. Converts and immigrant communities are found in almost every part of the world. With 1.57 billion Muslims (see Islam by country), Islam is the second-largest religion in the world and arguably the fastest growing religion in the world.
The word Islam is a verbal noun originating from the triliteral root s-l-m, and is derived from the Arabic verbAslama, which means "to accept, surrender or submit." Thus, Islam means acceptance of and submission to God, and believers must demonstrate this by worshipping him, following his commands, and avoiding polytheism. The word is given a number of meanings in the Qur'an. In some verses (ayat), the quality of Islam as an internal conviction is stressed: "Whomsoever God desires to guide, He expands his breast to Islam."[improper synthesis?]
Other verses connect islÄm and dÄ«n (usually translated as "religion"): "Today, I have perfected your religion (dÄ«n) for you; I have completed My blessing upon you; I have approved Islam for your religion." Still others describe Islam as an action of returning to Godâmore than just a verbal affirmation of faith. Another technical meaning in Islamic thought is as one part of a triad of islam, imÄn (faith), and ihsÄn (excellence) where it represents acts of worship (`ibÄdah) and Islamic law (sharia).
Judaism (from the Latin Iudaismus, derived from the Greek IoudaÃ¯smos, and ultimately from the Hebrew ×××××, Yehudah, "Judah"; in Hebrew: ×Ö·×Ö²××Ö¼×ª, Yahadut) refers to sets of beliefs and practices originating in the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Tanakh, and explored and explained in later texts such as the Talmud. Jews consider Judaism to be the expression of the covenantal relationship God developed with the Children of Israelâoriginally a group of around a dozen tribes claiming descent from the Biblical patriarchJacob and later the Jewish people. According to most branches, God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah. However, Karaite Judaism maintains that only the Written Torah was revealed, and liberal denominations such as Humanistic Judaism may be nontheistic.
Judaism claims a historical continuity spanning well over 3000 years. It is one of the oldest monotheisticreligions, and the oldest to survive into the present day. Its texts, traditions and values have inspired later Abrahamic religions, including Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i Faith. Many aspects of Judaism have also directly or indirectly influenced secularWesternethics and civil law.
In 2007, the world Jewish population was estimated at 13.2 million, 41% of whom lived in Israel and 40% of whom lived in the United States. This figure includes both ethnic Jews and converts to Judaismâmuch as some countries consider citizens to be either native-born children or naturalized immigrants, a Jew is defined as anyone with either the relevant Jewish parentage or a Jewish conversion. In more conservative branches such as Orthodox Judaism, conversion entails a full commitment to Jewish observance. At least in principle, these branches expect a similar level of commitment from every Jew. Historically, special courts enforced Jewish law; today, these courts still exist but the practice of Judaism is mostly voluntary. Authority on theological and legal matters is not vested in any one person or organization, but in the sacred texts and the many rabbis and scholars who interpret these texts.