There is more to a religion than its beliefs and doctrines; there are also its practices. They, however, are informed and guided by certain constitutive beliefs. So the importance of the latter cannot be denied. Religion is not practice alone. It is not a mere form of life or language game. It rests, pace Wittgenstein, on claims about the nature of reality, claims which, if false, render bogus the practices resting upon them. In this post I present some characteristic beliefs/convictions that provide the scaffolding for what I take to be religion. As scaffolding they are necessarily abstract so as to cover a variety of different religions.
Anything that does not fit this schema I am not inclined to call a religion in any serious sense. I may be willing to negotiate on (4) and (6). (If Buddhism is a religion, it is a religion of self-help, at least in its purest forms.)
1. The belief that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties of Religious Exerience, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents. So it lies beyond the discursive intellect. It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience. An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.
2. The belief that there is a supreme good for humans and that "our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves" to the "unseen order." (Varieties, p. 53)
3. The conviction that we are morally deficient, and that this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the unseen order. Man is in some some sense fallen from the moral height at which he would have ready access to the unseen order. His moral corruption, however it came about, has noetic consequences.
4. The conviction that our moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready access to the unseen order.
5. The conviction that adjustment to the unseen order requires moral purification/transformation.
6. The conviction that help from the side of the unseen order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.
7. The conviction that the sensible order is not plenary in point of reality or value, that it is ontologically and axiologically derivative. It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the unseen order.