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Defining Religion Essay

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Although most people have an idea of what they think religion means, when asked to actually put their definition into words, it proves to be much more difficult. Gary Kessler states that a good definition should be “useful for the purposes at hand, as precise as possible without being to narrow in scope, and as free from bias as possible” (14). Keeping this in mind, I have come to define religion as system of beliefs that seeks to find order within the universe, purpose in life, and the meaning behind death. Throughout history people have sought out answers for the fundamental questions of human existence: Why are we here?

Does everything happen for a reason, or are they mere random occurrences? What happens when you die? People use religion as a way to find answers for the things that are beyond our comprehension. I chose to define religion in this way because I felt it best fit Kessler’s marks of a good definition. I found it to be academically useful because it stimulates further thought and discussion. A good definition must also be precise. Because there are so many different religions, one cannot be too narrow in defining religion. Some use religious texts as a moral guide to relate it to their everyday life, and others rely more on ritual.

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I chose to leave out any mention of a higher power because while some religions believe in an omnipotent divine being, others believe in the divinity within oneself. I felt that if I included this, it would exclude certain major religions, such as Buddhism. On the same note, one cannot be too broad in their definition either. If there are no boundaries, almost anything can fall under the category of religion. To keep from being too broad, I decided to limit my definition of religion to belief systems that address the most basic questions about life, because ultimately, that is what every religion attempts to do.

By limiting my definition in this way, I also was attempting to keep it free of my personal biases. Because I grew up in a Christian family, I know I would have a natural western bias. I tried to define it in a way that would be encompassing of all religions, not just the one that I am used to. A good example of a religion that fits this definition is Hinduism. According to B. A. Robinson, Hindus believe in the transmigration of the soul, which is the transfer of one’s soul into another body after death over a span of many lifetimes through the process of samsara.

Karma determines how your next life will be. Good deeds can lead to rebirth at a higher level, and bad deeds cause someone to be reborn at a lower level, or even as an animal. All things in this life are consequences for actions in the previous life. They believe the main goal for a soul is to achieve Moska, which is the liberation from samsara. Although some people claim their religion is music, it does not fit into this definition. Music can often move someone spiritually, but spirituality cannot be confused with religion.

Spirituality is more of an attitude or an outlook than a true belief system. Music can be an expression of one’s beliefs, but it cannot be the basis of them. In conclusion, although the concept of religion seems to be relatively simple, defining it proves to be much more difficult. But through engaging Kesslars ideas of a good definition, I was able to define what I believe religion to be.

Robinson, B. A. “Hinduism: The World’s Third Largest Religion. “Religious Tolerance. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 17 Jun. 2010. Web. 31 Jan. 2011.

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