The Concept of Religion


A social taxon, Religion encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices. In general, religions concern themselves with the problem of good and evil in a moral sense or, more often, in a metaphysical or spiritual sense. They also usually involve some form of salvation, whether in a literal sense, such as the idea of going to heaven after death, as found in Christianity, or in a more symbolic way, such as finding an end to suffering, as found in Eastern religions, like Buddhism. Religious beliefs and practices are often accompanied by organized groups, a sacred book or books, special rites and rituals, and places, symbols, and days that hold significance for followers. Unlike many other human institutions, such as economics, religions tend to change more slowly and, in many cases, retain older features alongside new ones.

The concept of Religion is complex, as are attempts to define it. One approach is to treat it as a family-resemblance concept, in which a practice or belief can be said to be religious if it is similar to those of other cultures. This approach is not without its problems, however, as it may give rise to an essentialist view of the notion.

Another approach is to treat Religion as a social genus that appears in all cultures. This has its own problems, because it implies that Religion is inevitable in the human species. Yet, even if Religion is seen in this way, there are some beliefs and practices that do not qualify as Religion.

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