Religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. Many religions have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that are intended to explain the meaning of life and/or to explain the origin of life or the Universe. From their beliefs about the cosmos and human nature, people derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.
Many religions may have organized behaviors, clergy, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, holy places, and scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration of a deity, gods or goddesses, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religions may also contain mythology.
The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith, belief system or sometimes set of duties; however, in the words of Émile Durkheim, religion differs from private belief in that it is "something eminently social". A global 2012 poll reports that 59% of the world's population is religious, and 36% are not religious, including 13% who are atheists, with a 9 percent decrease in religious belief from 2005. On average, women are more religious than men. Some people follow multiple religions or multiple religious principles at the same time, regardless of whether or not the religious principles they follow traditionally allow for syncretism.
Because religion continues to be recognized in Western thought as a universal impulse, many religious practitioners have aimed to band together in interfaith dialogue, cooperation, and religious peacebuilding. The first major dialogue was the Parliament of the World's Religions at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, which remains notable even today both in affirming "universal values" and recognition of the diversity of practices among different cultures. The 20th century has been especially fruitful in use of interfaith dialogue as a means of solving ethnic, political, or even religious conflict, with Christian–Jewish reconciliation representing a complete reverse in the attitudes of many Christian communities towards Jews.
Recent interfaith initiatives include "A Common Word", launched in 2007 and focused on bringing Muslim and Christian leaders together, the "C1 World Dialogue", the "Common Ground" initiative between Islam and Buddhism, and a United Nations sponsored "World Interfaith Harmony Week".
Religion can be a vast and complex subject, with endless implications and mysteries and complexities. Because this is so true, and we are reaching for a universal spirituality that is essential and simple, we propose a basic interpretation of religion grounded in spirituality. Seen this way, the "core" of any religion is its spirituality, and its detailed expression and all its complexities and implications unfold as interpretations of this spirituality.
Religion as institutionalized spirituality
We propose that religion is a cultural and historical and institutional interpretation of a universal spirituality, proposed and conceived at a particular time in a particular historical and cultural context, taking a form most suitable for the particular culture where it emerged.
The forms of religion can be as varied as the human mind itself, and as varied as the cultures of the world. Religions do not all advocate the same ideals, or aim for the same objectives.
Because religion is usually institutionalized, it generally involves a bureaucracy, and layers of administration. Reloigions can vary widely in their interpretation of fundamental human issues - such as the question "when does human life begin?"
Can one religion be "right" and all others "wrong"?
Religions often claim to have privileged insight into specific question, and offer particular guidance or strict rules on those issues. And those rules and interpretations can vary widely.
Any sincere spiritual/religious seeker inevitibly encounters this variability within the religions of the world, and is thus confronted with critical questions. Is one world religion "true" and the others "false"? Are they perhaps all somewhat "false" or to some degree flawed? Is there any general source of "true guidance on all critical questions"? As a seeker, am I forced to "pick and choose just one", or can I reliably and honestly take ideas and insights from more than one tradition or institution?
The role of religion in society
Though it is true that instutitionalized religion can be criticized, its weaknesses or possible flaws do not mean that religion can have no reliable or trustworthy role in society. In very broad general terms, religion brings its influence into culture in ways that are generally constructive. In the west, the "Judeo-Christian" tradition has influencedall aspects of our cultural life.
Strengths and weaknesses of institutionalized religion
In the final analysis, is all religion private?
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