How Religion Is Defined


The social genus of religion is a broad concept that may be found in more than one culture. This article explores the various ways that Religion is defined: as a category-concept, taxon, and moral component. As a category, Religion may be defined as a set of practices that are shared by a group of people. For example, a group of people may practice a certain form of ritual to bring about a specific social or psychological effect.

Religion is a social genus

While religion is likely to remain a part of human culture for many years to come, a better understanding of religion allows us to better question the religious phenomena we encounter. Philosophy provides the methodology to do just that. Philip A. Pecorino’s book provides a comprehensive overview of the history, structure, and philosophical theory of religion. Below are some class notes to accompany the readings and class discussion. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.

It is a category-concept

In describing social practices, religion is used as a taxon. Some examples of “world religions” are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Yoruba, and others. Moreover, many religions do not assert belief in a supernatural being. A “world religion” includes many members and tokens, so that a single definition of religion will not be adequate for every culture.

It is a taxon

Historically, the term religion has referred to the practice of a particular god, community, or social group. This term has been adopted from the Latin word religio, which means “scrupulousness” and “devotedness.” The term religion is often associated with taboos, curses, and other transgressions. In western antiquity, it was common for people to follow different religions and worship different gods. These groups were often rival social groups that worshipped different gods. The phrase nobis religio (our way of worshiping) has been used to refer to a particular religion.

It has a moral component

While religion and morality are intimately intertwined throughout history, the collaboration has not always been fruitful. Western critics have often criticized the link between religion and morality, citing immoral teachings, dubious eschatological schemes, and doctrines of forgiveness for manipulative purposes. Yet these criticisms are equally valid for all major religious traditions. Let us consider some of the reasons for this intertwining.

It is a social practice

As a social institution, religion is a powerful antidote to many of today’s most pernicious social ills. Yet, many challenges have remained for the free expression of faith in the public square. Despite these challenges, research by social scientists indicates that allowing free religious practice is essential to move society in a positive direction. This article explores some of the most compelling social science research on religion.

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