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(a)"Religion" and (b)"Spirituality"
Please send your favorite definitions of religion and spirituality (including your own) to
CRES, Box 45414, Kansas City, MO 64171

Definitions of Religion
“Religion is an experience 
which no definition exhausts.”

With that caveat by Rufus M Jones in view,
here is a collection of
definitions and descriptions of religion
in several somewhat arbitrary categories,
and additional comments on the subject.


1.1 Religion is the "belief in spiritual beings." E B Tylor

1.2 "Religion is the belief in an ever living God, that is, in a Divine Mind and Will ruling the Universe and holding moral relations with mankind." James Martineau

1.3 "Religion is the recognition that all things are manifestations of a Power which transcends our knowledge." Herbert Spencer

1.4 "The essence of religion is belief in a relation to God involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation." Religion is "duty to a moral power higher than the state." Chief Justice Hughes

1.5 "Inborn religious faculty is the basis and cause of all religion. . . . If man have not a religious element in his nature, miraculous or other ‘revelations’ can no more render him religious than fragments of sermons and leaves of the Bible can make a lamb religious when mixed and eaten with its daily food." Theodore Parker

1.6 "Somewhere at the root of every religion there lies a sense of sacredness; certain things, events, ideals, beings are felt as mysterious and sacred. Somewhere, too, in every religion is a sense of dependence; man is surrounded by forces and powers which he does not understand and cannot control, and he desires to put himself into harmony with them. And, finally, into every religion there enters a desire for explanation and comprehension; man knows himself surrounded by mysteries yet he is always demanding that they shall make sense." Julian Huxley

1.7 "The function of religion is to confront the paradoxes and contradictions and the ultimate mysteries of man and the cosmos, to make sense and reason of what lies beneath the irreducible irrationalities of man's life; to pierce the surrounding darkness with pinpoints of light, or occasionally to rip away for a startling moment the cosmic shroud." Lewis Mumford

1.8 Religion is "a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming character when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended." A N Whitehead

1.9 "Religion is nothing if it is not obedience to awareness." C G Jung

1.10 Religion "consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto."


2.1 "The essence of religion consists in the feeling of an absolute dependence." Friedrich Schleiermacher

2.2 "Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities." It is a dramatization, projected into cosmic order, of sentiments, fears and longings that develop from the relationship of child to parents. "If one attempts to assign religion its place in man's evolution, it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition, as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilized individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity." Sigmund Freud

2.3 "By religion, then, I understand a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of Nature and of human life." Sir James Frazer

2.4 Religion "is a set of rituals, rationalized by myth, which mobilizes supernatural powers for the purpose of achieving, or preventing, transformations of state in man and nature." Anthony F C Wallace

2.5 "Religion is the natural reaction of the imagination when confronted by the difficulties of a truculent world." George Santayana

2.6 Religion springs from "suffering in the world." J W N Sullivan

2.7 "Religion is man's sense of disposition of the universe to himself." Ralph Barton Perry

2.8 Religion is "an emotion resting on a conviction of a harmony between ourselves and the universe at large." J M E McTaggart

2.9 Religion is "the effort to maintain communion, not with the infinite, but with that which possesses supreme worth which is perhaps but a deeper kind of infinitude." G M Stratton

2.10 "Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized. . . something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension." Alfred North Whitehead

2.11 "The religious way is the way that sees what physical eyes alone fail to see, the intangibles at the heart of every phenomenon." Sophia Lyon Fahs

2.12 "Religion is the infinite way we do finite things." R H Blythe

2.13 Religion is "the doors and windows between conditioned and unconditioned reality," a "map of the invisible world." Robert S Ellwod

2.14 "Religion is our human response to living as finite creatures in a world that is by all measures infinite." Thomas M. Belote

2l15 2Religion is a system of symbols which, when enacted by human beings, establishes powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations that make sense in terms of an idea of a general order of existence.


3.1 "Religion is about fellowship and community. . . . The task of religion is the maintenance and extension of human community." John MacMurray

3.2 "I understand by religion any system of thought and action shared by a group which give the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion." Eric Fromm

3.3 "Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness." Alfred North Whitehead

3.4 Religion "shall mean for us, the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider divine." William James

3.5 "Religion is a system of symbols which, when enacted by human beings, establishes powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations that make sense in terms of an idea of a general order of existence." Robert Bellah, agreeing with and paraphrasing Cliffordf Geertz, below.

3.5a. "Religion is , , , a way of making sense of the world, of forming an identity in relation to the world." Robert Bellah

3.6 "Religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motovations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic." Clifford Geertz

3.7 Culture is the" incarnation" of religion, but identifying one with the other is a degregation of both. TS Eliot


4.1 "The moral capacity of man is the foundation and interpreter of all religion." Immanual Kant

4.2 Religion "is ethics heightened, enkindled, lit up by "morality touched by emotion." Matthew Arnold

4.3 Religion is "a body of scruples which impede the free exercise of our faculties." Salomon Reinach

4.4 "The great office of religion is to call forth, elevate, and purify the spirit of man, and thus to conform it to its divine original." William Ellery Channing

4.5 Religion is "the emotion of reverence which the presence of the universal mind ever excites in the individual." Ralph Waldo Emerson

4.6 Religion consists in the perception of the infinite under such manifestations as are able to influence the moral character of man." Max Mueller

4.7 Religion is "the search for lost intimacy." Georges Bataille


5.1 "The proper office of religion is to regulate the heart of men, humanize their conduct, infuse the spirit of temperance, order, and obedience." David Hume

5.2 Religion is "primarily a system of ideas with which the individuals represent to themselves the society of which they are members, and the obscure but intimate relations which they have with it." Emile Durkheim

5.3 "Religion is a function in man's struggle for existence. . . . The struggle . . . is the primary thing, and religion is one of the tools man has forged whereby he can attain in this struggle a satisfactory and if possible a delightful existence. . . . Religion is of human, not divine origin, existing because of the role it plays in human life and not because of its divine source." John H Dietrich

5.4 Religion is a "collateral security for virtues." Lord Chesterfield

5.5 "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feelings of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people." Karl Marx

5.6 "Religion is organized spirituality." Huston Smith

5.7 "Religion is a human social process which provides an organized, agreed-upon, closed system of thinking and is, thus, able to bond people together into a society." C Brough

5.8 “I think religion is so much more than belief in God. It is about community, it’s about being moved by certain historical narratives, it’s about self identity within the group, it’s a place to bring your existential dilemmas. Although I reject a belief in God I accept the many impulses that bring people to a religious community.” Rebecca Goldstein, author of the book, 36 Reasons for the Existence of God: a Work of Fiction, on the 4/22/10 “Here and Now” radio program.


6.1 "The essence of religion is a belief in the persistency of value in the world." Harald Hoffding

6.2 "Religion consists of those actions, purposes and experiences which are humanly significant. Nothing human is alien to the religious. It includes labor, art, science, philosophy, love, friendship, recreation." A Human Manifesto, 1933

6.3 "Religion is the sense of ultimate reality, of whatever meaning a man finds in his own existence or the existence of anything else." G K Chesterton

6.4 Religion and the religious must be distinguished. For "there is no such thing as religion in the singular. There is only a multitude of religions. ‘Religion’ is strictly a collective term . . . (that) has not the unity of a regiment or assembly but that of any miscellaneous aggregate." However, "whatever introduces genuine perspective is religious. . . (for any) activity pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of conviction of its general and enduring value is religious in quality." John Dewey

6.5 "Religion is a commitment to what one believes to be of such character that it will transform man as he cannot transform himself, to save him from his self-destructive propensities and lead him to the best that human life can attain, provided that required conditions are met." H N Wieman

6.6 "Religion is the search for a value underlying all things, and as such is the most comprehensive of all the possible philosophies of life." Gordon W Allport

6.7 Religion "is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern." Paul Tillich

6.8 Religion is the dimension of depth in all life experiences. Paul Tillich

6.9 Religion is "a system of beliefs and practices built upon the recognition of the sacred." John J Macionis

6.10 Religion is a term generally used to mean "a system of language and practice that organizes the world in terms of what is deemed sacred." William E Paden

6.11 We take religion "to be the way in which men in community personally relate to, express, or symbolize that which gives meaning to their lives and that which is ultimately most significant for sustaining their being." UUA Commission II The Free Church in a Changing World

6.12 "Religion is that cluster of memories and myths, hopes and images, rites and custms that pulls together the life of a person or group into a meaningful whole . . . it lends coherence to life, furnishes a fund of meaning, gives unity to human events and guides people in making decisions. Religion, as its Latin root suggests, is what 'binds things together.' " Harvey Cox

6.13 "Religion is the conviction that “inherent, objective value permeates everything, that the universe and its creatures are awe-inspiring, that human life has purpose and the universe order.” Ronald Dworkin

6.14 "[R]eligion is, first of all, an experience of the holy, the sacred, the good, and then it's  the image and the memory which recalls that experience, what we would call a symbol, and then it's the story we have to tell to others to explain the symbol and recount our experience. . . .  Religion . . . is imaginative before it is propositional. It begins with experiences which renew hope, is encoded in images or symbols which become templates for action, is shared with others through stories which are told in communities and celebrated in rituals". Andrew Greeley. 

6.15 "Religion is fundamentally a practice that helps people to look at the world as it is and yet to experience it — to some extent, in some way — as it should be." T. M. Luhrmann

7. MORE ABOUT "RELIGION"  by Vern Barnet (c) 1990, 1997

7.1 "Religion is how people discover, create, order, enhance, celebrate and live the meanings, values and relations of existence. Since meaning, value and relation are increased and intensified by greater range, diversity and coherence, religion (more an awareness or activity than a belief or rule) reaches toward the integration of all meanings, values and relations into the whole of all wholes (the Void), in considering or experiencing the perspective of absolute worth, fitness and wholesomeness. Some say the root of religion is religio, to bind together; an integrative definition follows therefrom: religion is getting it all together.
    "This implies social forms as well as personal religion since it is through the sharing of interests, concerns and priorities in the discipline of freedom that greater range and diversity increase and intensify meaning, value and relation. Groups offering unlimited membership—without discrimination by creed, age, race, life-style, etc—may present significant fields for the creative interplay among persons. Religion is therefore both all-embracing and all-centering; and the process of religion is endless. The direction of the process is toward the Sacred, that which has ultimate value, on which our lives depend. The mystics call it ‘love.’ " Vern Barnet, 1990

7.2 "Religion is the discovery of how to live in the world. Religion is our response to experiences of the holy as we seek to understand, honor, and share them.
"Spirituality thus begins with awe and worship, grows in gratitude, and matures in service." Vern Barnet, 1997

7.2x Religion is how one relates to reality. Religion is how one lives. Vern Barnet, 2018

7.3 940803 "Religion" hard to define, by Vern Barnet
copyright 1994 by The Kansas City Star.

What is religion? Religion is hard to define, and the word is troublesome.
   In the West: Some Christians adopt the motto that "Christianity is not a religion; it's a way of life." Some Jews describe Judaism as a tradition more than a religion; sometimes the phrase "non-religious Jews" is used to describe them.
   "New agers" typically embrace "spirituality" while rejecting "religion" because to them "religion" implies an institution.
   Some American Sufis prefer to describe themselves as followers of the "religion of the heart"; Sufism is a "point of view" or a "spiritual path," not a codified organization, although there are many Sufi organizations.
   In the East: Historically what now gets labeled as "Hinduism" actually was a variety of practices, grouped together by Arab explorers. Buddhism sometimes is considered a philosophy more than a religion, even by some Buddhists, because the Buddha taught nothing about God. Some Baha'is say there only the religion of God.
   Primal cultures: Many languages and cultures have had no word for "religion" because their ways were so interwoven. What was "religion" for the American Indian? It is difficult to separate their religion from hunting, basket-making, raising children or viewing the seasons. To understand any single aspect of such a culture fully is to understand the entire culture because each part of it implies the whole.
   Some scholars today, even in texts on religion, have abandoned the effort to define religion. They simply describe what has been called "religious" in its many manifestations.
   Despite these difficulties, my next column will offer a way of understanding "religion."

7.4 940817 "Religion" defined, by Vern Barnet
copyright 1994 by The Kansas City Star.

In my last column I explained why "religion" was difficult to define and why some people disliked the word. Despite these problems, I'll try to describe what "religion" can mean. Reader responses may be included in a future column.
   The holy: Religion arises from experiences of the holy.
   These encounters or realizations shape or direct or give meaning to all of life. Psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote about "peak experiences" in art, love and therapy. The experience of the holy is like this but cannot be reduced to psychology; in many cases, such experiences are shared by an entire culture.
   Three expressions: Scholars recognize three expressions of religion: emotions, beliefs and organizations.
   One expression is worship, attention given to the holy.
   The worshiper may have feelings such as awe and gratitude, a sense of relatedness and a desire to be of service to others.
   A second expression is understanding, elaborated in sacred stories and theology, conceptualizing the content of faith.
   A third expression is social, the way groups organize to honor, preserve, enhance and share their experiences of the holy.
   The secular: The root meaning of "holy" (as well as "health" and "holistic") is "whole. Religion thus is embedded in the connections among all things.
   But our society seems fragmented, broken, sick, not whole, the connections forgotten. Nowadays, religion itself has become a partitioned activity instead of our search for, and response to, the holy in all things. Our secular age separates sports, art, the law, education,
science, government and family life from overarching direction and reverence.

7.5 Short definition (2013) by Vern Barnet
     Religion is the response to the wonder and terror of being alive.

7.6 Values
     Religion is not about facts; it is about values, revealed through stories and enacted through rituals.

8. The Sacred in World Religions
by Vern Barnet (c) 1994

8.10 "Religion arises from questions like ‘What is so important that my life depends on it, and what must I do to honor it?’ and from experiences which seem to answer this question. In philosophy the question is ‘What is real?’ In information science, the query might be, ‘What is the structure of all data?’ In theological language we ask ‘What is sacred?’ The sacred is contrasted with the profane, the secular, the fragmented, the partial, the instrumental, the means. The sacred is supreme worth, fundamental significance, ultimate value, utmost concern.

8.11" Usually these questions and experiences are at the periphery of awareness despite their importance. Worship, considering things of worth, is attending to, beholding the Sacred as the focus of awareness. Religion is a way of living out our worship experiences so that our lives have transcendent meaning, coherence, order and relationships informed by a sense of the Sacred.

8.12 "The religions of the world seem to answer these questions differently. In our time, encounter between the faiths may lead us to discover ways in which the sacred realms of nature (primal faiths), of consciousness (Asian faiths), and the history of covenanted community (monotheistic faiths) are different dimensions of fundamental reality, as length, width, and height are different dimensions of space."Vern Barnet, 1994

See also;

On Spirituality

9.1 950906 What is spirituality? by Vern Barnet
copyright 1995 by The Kansas City Star.

What is spirituality?
   The English word "spirit" derives from the Latin for "breath." Words like "expire" retain this root meaning. "Inspiration," breathing in, has been metaphorically expanded to refer to what excites or enlivens us.
   A couple weeks ago I spoke at a church about sexuality. Few in the group saw any connection between sexuality and spirituality. This split indicates the secularization, which is to say, fragmentation, of our age.
   Yet one way of understanding spirituality is what inspires, what moves, what turns you on.
   For example, Adam came to life when God breathed into his nostrils. An early Hebrew word for "soul" means wind or breath. The term recognizes that we sometimes feel exalted, sometimes depressed.
   A similar Arabic term for "spirit" can mean the breath used in kindling a fire. There is certainly spirit in the classic rock song by The Doors, "Light My Fire."
   The Sanskrit term for the soul, atman, means breath. The Greek word for soul from which we derive "psychology" also means breath, life.
   In Chinese, this vital force is ch'i, the breath that informs the world, expanding and contracting, making every being spiritual, even stones.
   Here are some ways we use "spirit" in English:
   * The Kansas City Spirit Festival was held last week-end.
   * The spirit of the law is more important than the letter.
   * Let's show team spirit!
   * She is a free spirit.
   While specific religions give particular meanings to "spirituality," its underlying sense is that which energizes us with significance. Cooking, business, sex, taking a walk, and even church activities can be spiritual when we let the Infinite breathe into them.

9.2 950913 Canda on "spirituality" by Vern Barnet
copyright 1994 by The Kansas City Star.

Last Wednesday this column showed how in many traditions and languages, the word "spirituality" is a metaphorical expansion of "breath."
   Ed Canda, professor at the University of Kansas and founding director of the Society for Spirituality and Social Work, responded to the column:
   "Spirituality, like the breath that inspires and enlivens everyone, is common to all people and all religions. When we chose to live in a spiritual way, we grow in love and understanding.
   "Spirituality is our yearning for meaning and purpose, the search for morality and truth. It is our life-long development of a sense of being a whole person, with self-respect and love towards others.
   "It is so basic to being genuinely human than many cultures don't have a special word for it.
   "In Confucianism, spirituality is the pursuit of wisdom and work to make a society that benefits everyone.
   "In Zen Buddhism, spirituality is the quest for enlightenment - the insight into who we truly are, realizing our connection with everything, and desiring to help all fellow beings.
   "For Jews, Christians and Muslims, spirituality can lead to awareness of a personal and loving God, present in the world.
   "The spiritual way leads to a sense of the sacredness of all things, right in the midst of daily life. When we have this awareness, we naturally want to respect and care for all that exists.
   "American Indian spiritual teachers put it well:
   Spirituality is the way to walk in a sacred manner, to walk in harmony with the beauty all around us and within us."

9.3  "By spirituality, I mean immersion, however shallow, in teachings, intentions, and practices (which may be far from formal) adopted in order to establish or reestablish some degree of alignment or intimacy with what is taken to be 'sacred.'"  Robert A. Masters "Fire is Also Light:  Anger and Intimacy" in ReVision (Fall 1998, Vo. 21 #2),  page 43, via Roger Otis Kuhrt, U.U. Solutions,  Lakewood, WA.

Definitions of Spirituality from Steve Jeffers' PP:

“Spirituality is that inner source which energizes us with significance.” --Vern Barnet, DMn

“Spirituality is a way of being that predetermines how we respond to life experiences.” --William Guillory, PhD

“Spirituality is about making decisions that aren’t contrary to your values and beliefs.” --Cheryl Palmer

“Spirituality, often expressed in a cultural or religious tradition, is the constituent of people’s being that provides the framework for their understanding of life’s purpose and meaning, their sense of well-being and their relationships with humanity and the divine.  It is a determining factor in how individuals explain and react to life events.  Spirituality is an important element in patients’ and families’ ability to cope with illness, dying and death.  Thus, spirituality is an indispensable component of quality, holistic healthcare.”inition is the one created by me and others in a focus group as a definition of spirituality for the Institute for Spirituality in Health. -- A focus  group for The Institute for Spirituality in Health, Steven L. Jeffers, PhD, Director, Shawnee Mission Medical Center, 9100 W 74th Street, Shawnee Mission, KS 66204; 913-676-8104; 913-676-7792 fax;

Please send your favorite definitions of religion and spirituality (including your own) to
CRES, Box 45414, Kansas City, MO 64171
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