As for the sociological definition of religion, the written above arguments give reason to take it to one of the main component of the cultural system associated with the fundamental, vital to the community values that determine the semantic content of human action. In Western sociology religion is usually defined as “an institutionalized system of beliefs, symbols, values and practices that provide a group of people with issues falling within the scope of limiting categories of human existence.”
Different sociologist that represent different sociological theories give their definitions of religion. Emile Durkheim defines religion in terms of its social functions: “religion is a system of beliefs and rituals with reference to the sacred which binds people together in social groups”. Max Weber defines religion as “any set of coherent answers to human existential dilemmas – birth, sickness, death – which make the world meaningful”.
Similar to this definition of religion gives R. Bell in his famous work “Beyond belief” (1970), identifying it as “a set of symbolic forms and acts that relate human with finite conditions of his existence.” Consequently, the most essential feature of religion, religious symbols and actions lies in their correlation with the final conditions of human existence – birth and death of a human being, his life’s tragedies, the infinity of the world, etc. It is this sense-generating components of religion gives us grounds to consider it as a central component of the cultural system, for solving the problem of the meaning of “end of the human condition” rises in front of any society at any stage of its development, regardless of the type of society.
Study of religion as a social institution implies its theoretical description in terms of the social system, more precisely, social subsystem of the whole. From a sociological point of view the Institute of Religion, like other social organizations can be presented as a philosophical belief system of two interrelated levels:
1) value-regulatory model, which includes a set of beliefs, symbols, and regulations pertaining to a certain range of phenomena and objects, which are called sacred and
2) the structure of behavioral patterns, managed and controlled by religious norms and beliefs. The real embodiment of this is the existence of a religious organization, which includes various aspects of religious practice: the moral community of believers, church organization, worship, customs, ceremonies, etc.
Value-standard level of religion is a complex set of beliefs, symbols, values, moral precepts, which are contained in the sacred texts and scriptures. In the Christian religion, for example, the source of values and knowledge is the Bible, in Islam – the Koran, – these sacred texts are the source of knowledge for the believers of the world, nature, space, man and society. This knowledge is closely connected with artistic and imaginative, often fantastic picture of life on earth. The peculiarity of religious concepts and ideas is that they have a strong impact on the psyche and emotions of the faithful, causing people a sense of joy, hope, sorrow, sin, humility, along with a sense of love for God, which in conjunction with other forms of special believer “religious sentiment”. Religious beliefs and knowledge can be considered as value systems, which has a special place in the spiritual culture of society, because they determine the meaning and significance of the limit states of human existence, as mentioned above. In addition, they include in their content of moral values and attitudes, usually accumulates by centuries of norms and rules of human coexistence. They contain and humanistic orientation, calling for social justice and charity, mutual tolerance and respect. It is therefore natural that the religious ideas and values contribute to social integration and social stability.
Central place in religious activities belongs to worship, content of which is determined by religious ideas, beliefs, values. It is thanks to the cult action formed a religious group. To the cult activities include religious rites and ceremonies, sermons, prayer, worship, etc. Also a crucial role in value-regulatory system of religion belongs to the religious symbolism, such as the cross and the crucifixion of Christ, the very structure of the church, symbolizing the upward aspiration of the faithful closer to God, the altar in the temple, icons, etc. All religious activities related to worship, religious services and prayers, and various rituals and festive events must occur with the use of religious symbols. Its artwork is intended to be, on the one hand, the symbol of the sacred world, which adjoins a believer in the cult of action, on the other – is intended to arouse the believers their religious feelings and sentiments.
Important role in the sociological study of religion has study of the structure of religious organizations, the latter term might be used in a broad sense, when it is identified with the social system, and in the narrow – when under the organization is understood the internal structure of religious communities and ways of managing them. It is in this sense, the term “religious organization”, along with the concepts of “religious consciousness” and “religious worship” is used to describe and analyze the nature of religion in Marxist social philosophy.