Defining the Concept of Religion

Religion is a human need to connect with something beyond one’s self. It provides a purpose in life and a source of comfort when things are difficult. It also offers the chance to get closer to God, a divine force.

Defining the concept of religion is an ongoing issue that resurfaces in different social contexts as new religious groups, revitalization movements, and quasi-religious pursuits gain momentum. Some writers suggest that defining the concept of religion should be left to scholars after they have studied and fashioned it (Harrison 1912, Weber 1922).

In modern times, people are increasingly identifying with the notion of religion as a way to establish a sense of belonging within a social group. This is especially true in societies that are characterized by increasing individualism and isolation, as well as the growing number of psychological disorders attributed to loneliness.

It is possible to identify a general pattern that can help distinguish religions from nonreligious practices or from the cults and sects associated with magic. Such a general approach is commonly referred to as monothetic-set definition.

Polythetic-set definitions are similar in their emphasis on multifactorial characteristics, but they avoid the claim that an evolving social category has an ahistorical essence.

They also recognize more properties that are common or typical of religions, without being essential. But they are still not able to identify the essential property that characterizes religion.

The basic structure of a discontinuity between an empirical, mundane order and a superempirical, cosmic-level order is often taken as the definitive of religion by formal strategies like those of Zeldin (1969), Lemert (1975), and Blasi (1980). It can lead to analytical programs that see the cosmic Otherness being domesticated or a domestic signaling of the relevance of the Other.

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