Religion is a complex concept, with many different senses that have changed over time. It was once a word to describe scrupulous devotion, but now it is a social taxon that includes a wide range of practices and beliefs. The term may even refer to a specific set of practices or a group that practices them, but it also carries the broader sense of an invisible community that is larger than oneself and holds moral and spiritual values that guide behavior and offer hope for the future.
This broad characterization of religion, which is anchored by the so-called world religions of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, has been challenged in recent years. For example, there are many religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a traditional church or sect, or only subscribed to by a small number of people. These beliefs may be similar to existing ones but seem illogical or unreasonable to others.
A defining property of religion is that it provides structure, traditions, and moral guidance for believers. It also offers a community that can support them when they are struggling. In addition, religion has been linked to positive mental health outcomes, including lowered stress, anxiety, and depression and greater optimism and life satisfaction. It has also been found that practicing religion reduces loneliness and feelings of isolation, which are common in modern times, when people tend to live alone more often. Moreover, some studies suggest that people who practice religion have lower rates of obesity and drug abuse and live longer.