No clear definition exists, but some parts may include:
attention to the ultimate
interest in or actively caring about things that are essential to our lives;
this can include concern with values and meaning, and questions about why things are as they are (envisioned by some as due to God, and by others as due to processes of nature)
responses to mystery
ways of envisioning and acting with respect to things that are unable to be known
existential questions and ideals
concern with purpose and meaning; responses to loss;
a basis for hope
Being religious has been described as not “a special way of knowing, but rather a special way of being”.
Part of this is attitude which, in some traditions, focuses on compassion. Another aspect of attitude can be caring, as in Loyal Rue’s view that a religious person is “one who takes ultimate concerns to heart”. It may also include a desire to understand and act in accordance with the ways of the perceived source of all that is, and a sense of personal or emotional connection to this source. As William James put it, “The relation goes direct from heart to heart, from soul to soul, between man and his maker” howsoever that “maker” may be envisioned.
Being religious can also include practices – as ways of re-orienting the mind, encountering the ultimate, declaring one’s faith, and putting values into action. A focus in this can be self-transformation, as religious orientation may highlight ideals and offer practices that can help people move toward their better selves.
Whether they consider themselves to be religious or not, each person, at times, considers religious questions. Each forms a view of how things are and what may be possible or not, and a sense of what is important, right, and good. If they consider the order and beauty and unanswered questions about the world, they may encounter a sense of mystery and appreciation and wonder. And, as they stand with others to mark life events (the birth of a child, a wedding, or a funeral), they may acknowledge some things as important, or “sacred”. With these types of responses or feelings, and as they act in accordance with their beliefs, each person can be seen as having their own spiritual sense, or their own personal religion.
Some terms and distinctions – related to religiosity
Loyal Rue’s model of religion
Neuroscience and religous faith (ISSR)
Were Neanderthals religious?
Additional reading – perspectives on religion