The Concept of Religion


Religion is a term used to describe human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. This relationship often involves ultimate concerns about one’s life and fate after death.

In many traditions, religion also includes the way people deal with such ultimate issues as the origin of life, creation, or the nature of morality. The concept of religion has been developed by scholars from a variety of fields, including history, anthropology, sociology, linguistics, and philosophy.

The definition of religion has been the subject of a long and often tangled debate, with scholars of all backgrounds coming to different conclusions about what the best approach is to studying it. While some of these approaches have been monothetic, such as classical theories in which every accurately described case has a defining property that determines its membership in the class, others have taken a polythetic approach.

A key parameter for a polythetic approach is the threshold number of characteristics a member of the class must possess in order to be classified as having a religion. Rodney Needham (1975) uses the example of a computer program that sorts 1500 different bacterial strains, listing each one according to its 200 properties.

Although the concept of religion does not have a definitive meaning, it is widely regarded as consisting of a set of beliefs and practices that unite a group of people into a coherent, distinctive moral community. It is also the source of a great deal of social and political conflict.