Religion is for everyone something different. So how should we be able to find out which religion a society has? Of course you can say they are buddhists, muslims, or members of another religion. But is their belief real? What exactly do they believe in? Are they religious? After all, what is religion?
Those are questions that ethnologists investigating in religion are confronted with. And there is not a unique answer to it. The investigated people define whether they are religious or not. Ethnologists have to shift their views and describe an investigated religion as natural although they may can’t connect with it. And maybe they do connect and that changes their belief as well.
But again: What is religion? Is it already something religious when you practise yoga? When you hung up a dreamcatcher to protect yourself from bad dreams? Or is it a lifestyle? What is even the difference between religion and lifestyle? Probably we can’t separate the two, but they go hand in hand. Another word coming along with religion is science. Do we still need religion with the scientific knowledge we have today? Is religion just a concept to explain the things we aren’t able to explain without science? Or is there something else, something we can’t see and define, but that is here anyway? Do spiritual beings exist? And is there an afterlife?
Ethnology is curious about those things. Investigating in the field of religion may be investigating about the conception of souls and the afterworld. It may be about magic, about myths, about rites. Especially the rites of passages like a boy becoming a man were investigated a lot. It may be about gods and spirits, about totemism and shamanism, about indigenous religions as well as the major religious groups.
Additionally to be asking what religion is, we can ask as well what religion is for. What function does the religion have in a society? Beside explaining the unexplainable, religion can be an orientation for what to do and what to neglect. Like that it has a stabilising function in a society. Often a religion and its rites are symbols. Like the above-mentioned rite of passages, it is a symbolic way to grow from a boy to a man.