From Peter Hardy, Chaplaincy Assistant:
Some given data
Our ecosystem is an organic framework which environs homo sapiens -otherwise uncontrollable- so as to flourish.
A story is an narrative framework in which we understand purposes and meanings in events.
Psychoanalysis is a therapeutic practice that provides a supportive structure for self-correction and growth.
A university is an educational institution with a history of intellectual development.
A morality is a system of values which regulate the behaviour of members of the community.
A language is a social vehicle for communication which operates on a system of rules.
A gap in the data
What then is a religion?
Bad answer 1: a superstitious attempt to control natural forces. Counterexample– philosophical and post-Enlightenment religion.
Bad answer 2: a speculative explanation for what is unknown. Counterexample– much Eastern religion.
Bad answer 3: a series of practices that in the long term give meaning to life because of particular metaphysical beliefs. Counterexample– many philosophical religions, particularly Eastern ones.
Bad answer 4: a series of practices that in the long term give meaning to life regardless of one’s metaphysical beliefs. Counterexample– sports fandom is not religion.
A more promising answer
The theologian Edward Holloway suggested that a religion is best understood as an ecosystem.
The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard compared being part of a religion to a being part of a story.
The philosopher John Cottingham has said that a religion is form of therapy, it provides or encourages psychoanalytic techniques.
The theologian Nicholas Lash says that a religion is like a university.
The sociologist Emile Durkheim thought that a religion was best understood as a moral system.
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said that religion was a language of its own, with the orthodox theology as its grammar.
Thus I suggest that a religion is:
a) Not any particular phenomenon but a synthetic term used to mean…
b) a significantly distinct form in which each of these six practices have been interrelated as a complex network.
c) Where the network gives communal expression to the spiritual experiences of individuals…
d) and has authority over but not necessarily above (i.e. distinct from) the individual.