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Religious vs. Non-Religious Belief Systems

Differentiating Between Religions and Other Belief Systems

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Religion is certainly a type of belief system, but not all belief systems are religion. Differentiating religious from non-religious belief systems is sometimes easy, but other times rather difficult. Establishing a set of characteristics which tend to coalesce around religions is helpful, yet even that isn't always enough.

In the end, there are a few beliefs or belief systems which give people a great deal of difficulty. Theism is perhaps most often confused with religion, even though theism by itself doesn't qualify as a belief system whereas religion always does. Philosophy is sometimes confused with religion because the two topics tend to cover the same basic issues. Spirituality is often mistaken for not being a religion - perhaps because religion has acquired a bad name but people still want to retain the basic trappings and features.

Understanding how and why theism, philosophy, spirituality, and other beliefs are similar and different from what we normally think of when when think "religion" can help a great deal in understanding just what religion is. Some point to where the outer boundaries of religion lie, while others help us understand what religion necessarily includes.

Religion vs. Superstition
Is there a real connection between religion and superstition? Some, particular adherents of various religious faiths, will often argue that the two are fundamentally different types of beliefs. Those who stand outside of religion, however, will notice some very important and fundamental similarities which bear closer consideration.

Religion vs. The Paranormal
Is there a connection between religion and belief in the paranormal? Some, particular adherents of various religious faiths, will often argue that the two very different types of beliefs. Those who stand outside of religion, however, will notice some very important similarities which bear closer consideration.

Religion vs. Theism
Are religion and theism effectively the same thing, such that every religion is theistic and every theist is also religious? Because of some common misconceptions, many people are inclined answer that question positively. It isn't uncommon even among atheists to simply assume that religion and theism are equivalent.

Religion vs. Religious
The terms religion and religious obviously come from the same root, which would normally lead us to conclude that they also refer to basically the same thing: one as a noun and the other as an adjective. But perhaps that isn't always true - perhaps the adjective religious has a broader usage than the noun religion.

Religion vs. Philosophy
Is religion just a type of philosophy? Is philosophy a religious activity? There seems to be some confusion at times over just whether and how religion and philosophy should be distinguished from each other - this confusion is not unjustified because there are some very strong similarities between the two.

Religion & Spirituality
One idea which gained a lot of popularity during the latter half of the 20th century is that there exists a real distinction between two different modes of relating with the divine or the sacred: religion and spirituality. Religion, on the one hand, is supposed to describe the social, the public, and the organized means by which people relate the the sacred and the divine while Spirituality is supposed to describe such relations when they occur in private, personally, and even in eclectic ways. Is such a distinction valid?

What is Animism?
Animism is the belief that everything in nature has its own spirit or divinity.

What is Paganism?
Paganism might be pantheistic or polytheistic, but is distinctive in that it relates to God primarily through nature.

What is Shamanism?
Shamanism is an animistic religion of certain peoples of northern Asia in which mediation between the visible and spirit worlds is effected by shamans."



Glossary: Religion & Philosophy
This extensive glossary provides detailed information on philosophical and religious concepts, from abandonment to Zeno of Elea! (over 2400 entries total)

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