December News

Welcome Back to the School of Religion Blog!

This month features new blog posts by Morgan Oddie on sacred pain, Amelia Walsh on satirical portrayals of religion, and by Emma Funnell-Kononuk on adolescent perceptions of the hijab in Canada.

Also, because Queen’s University is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, we have launched a new blog section: 175 words. In this section faculty members, students, alumni, and guests share their 175-word posts.

Check back later this month for more updates and consider writing your own contribution. Please send your blog post ideas to

Defining Moments

Dr. James Miller
Professor of Chinese Religions, School of Religion
Director of Cultural Studies
Queen’s University

Everyone who takes an undergraduate class in religion quickly learns that there is no one way to define religion.

Everyone who takes a graduate class in religion quickly learns that this is because classifying activities as religious or non-religious is an inescapably political task that people use to assert certain kinds of power or authority over others.

Everyone who becomes a professor of religion is fated eventually to forget what they have learned and to offer their own definition of religion.

So here is mine.

Religion is mass cultural habit oriented towards death.

It is mass, because it forms into social movements not just private spiritualities. It is cultural, because it is expressed through movement, art, song and dance. It is a habit because it seeks to engrain itself in patterns of life and reproduce itself from one generation to the next. And it is oriented towards the death of animals, humans, and the world itself.

From these four characteristics flow everything associated with religion: beliefs, rituals, customs, gods, ancestors, worldviews, violence, and community.