that is very interesting considering that systematized religion has existed in the "west" since the time of the Egyptians, then the greeks, romans, judaic, muslim, etc.
It's interesting how in the "east" religion hasn't been systematized in quite the same way. That would certainly create some conceptual or cultural incompatibilities with the definitions of "religion" according to one's origin.
I should clarify what I'm saying here.
Basically, the abstract concept of "religion" as distinct from "philosophy", "science" and "everyday life" was not necessarily found in pre-modern civilizations.
It is well enough easy for us to look back into ancient China and see the "religions" of Daoism and Buddhism for example, but people in those times did not designate Daojiao and Fojiao (Buddhism) as being subsumed under a certain category of systematic thought that must be distinguished from "the sciences" like astronomy or divination. In this example Daoism and Buddhism were very much systematized schools of thought and both parties were aware that the other was external to their own school of thought, but nobody would have said, "We're doing religion, the astronomers are doing science."
In India at least, there is a long history of religion being somewhat separate from non-religion, although religion permeates EVERY aspect of life for many, as India still has thousands of sects, and deities, etc. There is a fairly strong push for tolerance towards different religions.
Again, it begs the question of people before modern times would most people in India have normally perceived a category of "religion" and a counter "non-religion".
I think for the common person, no matter the time period really, doing particular rituals like making offerings to the gods was just as much an essential and normal activity as bathing or milking cows. For ancients, and many people today too, what we call "religious activities" (and for most of us they're optional) were and are absolutely as essential to maintaining one's health and fortune in the world as is drinking water. It is just something you need
to do. In India if the rites were not performed perfectly with exacting pronunciation and verbatim recitation, undesirable things were naturally expected to occur as a result.
For the modern westerner who has a standard education in materialist science, "religious activities" are optional and an entirely personal affair. Again, for a lot of people in history and even today what we call "religion" is just as essential to them as employment is to us. Absolutely essential.
I'm not as familiar with China, Japan. But I'd be inclined to think "religion" takes on a much more practical form in its spirituality. It would be more about one's honor, honoring one's family/ancestors, etc and less like the Christian model with its extensive dogma and inexplainable "mysteries" that one must just believe blindly to be, for example, Catholic.
I'm not all that familiar with western religions really, but let's look at the etymology for the word:
c.1200, "state of life bound by monastic vows," also "conduct indicating a belief in a divine power," from Anglo-Fr. religiun (11c.), from O.Fr. religion "religious community," from L. religionem (nom. religio) "respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods," in L.L. "monastic life" (5c.); according to Cicero, derived from relegare "go through again, read again," from re- "again" + legere "read" (see lecture). However, popular etymology among the later ancients (and many modern writers) connects it with religare "to bind fast" (see rely), via notion of "place an obligation on," or "bond between humans and gods." Another possible origin is religiens "careful," opposite of negligens. Meaning "particular system of faith" is recorded from c.1300.
"To hold, therefore, that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads in the end to the rejection of all religion in both theory and practice. And this is the same thing as atheism, however it may differ from it in name." [Pope Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, 1885]
Modern sense of "recognition of, obedience to, and worship of a higher, unseen power" is from 1530s. Religious is first recorded early 13c. Transferred sense of "scrupulous, exact" is recorded from 1590s.
I think for medieval Christians too, appeasing God Almighty was just as essential to their daily lives as was tending the fields. As to how "applied" or "practical" their religion was in general, I don't know. I have an image of tithes and such, but that's probably more a stereotype on my part. I imagine the devout did volunteer work of some sort.
It's in the western-cultural-matrix that one has this intense separation holy/profane, secular/spritual, this duality where people for example go and do bad things then go to church, confess, get absolved, and they're fine. They can go do it again. And just get their "get out of jail free" card with confession.
Interestingly, the opposite extreme of materialism leads to the same behaviours. If you think that after death you'll just enter an eternal unconscious nothingness, then by the same token you're also free from suffering whatever actions are left unripe at the end of your mortal flesh. If you think you're just a cheap combination of chemicals and that "you only live once" then you're absolved from any concept of sin and your post-mortem oblivion is your "get out of jail free" card. From such a perspective nothing really
matters and to them you'll just die and that'll be the absolute end of it anyway, so "live it up" as they say.