The Concept of Religion

Categories : Gambling


Many scholars use the term religion in a functional sense to refer to those beliefs and behaviors that generate social cohesion or provide orientation in life. In this context, the idea is that religion names a phenomenon that is inevitable and can be found in every culture. However, this way of using the concept has problems.

A classic view holds that a concept can accurately describe instances of a phenomenon only if those instances share a defining property with one another. This is sometimes called the prototype theory of concepts (for incisive explanations, see Laurence and Margolis). However, it may be possible to treat a category—such as religion—as having an open polythetic structure. In other words, it is possible to have an unlimited set of properties that characterize members of a class such as religion, and to discover patterns in their co-appearance, without specifying the number of defining properties a member must possess.

This approach allows the study of a large variety of religious beliefs and practices, ranging from a belief in God to a belief in reincarnation. It also enables scholars to compare and contrast religions with one another, which makes it possible to identify important similarities and differences.

Over the past few decades, a number of scholars have been using the concept religion in a reflexive way. They have pulled the camera back, so to speak, to examine how assumptions baked into the concept of religion have distorted our understanding of real-life phenomena. These scholars have argued that the fact that what counts as religion in different cultures shifts according to one’s definition reveals a constructedness in its use. In other words, the notion of religion is a social construct that was invented to serve specific political purposes.