Definitions of Religion


Religion is a set of beliefs, values and practices that help people organize their lives. It often provides guidance and support during times of crisis or difficulty. It also helps people develop and nurture their relationships with themselves, their family and friends and their community. Most religions emphasize doing good for others, which is a big part of what keeps the faith alive for many believers.

Substantive definitions of religion — such as Durkheim’s — turn on the function of creating solidarity. Functionalist definitions of religion (such as the one by Paul Tillich) focus on a person’s dominant concern that serves to organize their values and provide them with orientation in life.

Some scholars have criticized substantive and functional definitions of religion as ethnocentric. For example, they may fail to consider belief systems that do not include a concept of disembodied spirits or a dichotomy between the natural and supernatural, such as Buddhism and Jainism (see Philosophy of religion).

Other scholars have sought to address these criticisms by promoting polythetic definitions of religion. These definitions attempt to capture the overlapping, crisscrossing and partially overlapping features that define a religion. They are based on the notion of “family resemblance” that was developed by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (see Wittgenstein). While this approach is not widely accepted, it allows us to see how the definitions of religion are constructed and thus how they have been used in social conflict. It is possible that the emergence of such definitions was made possible by the advent of modern languages like English, but the concept for a social kind might have existed much earlier.

Posted in: Gambling