Defining the Concept of Religion


Religion is a complex cultural phenomenon. People in Western cultures tend to think of it as a belief system associated with a church, temple or mosque but religion is much more diverse. Religion includes a range of social activities that serve the emotional needs of the human community and also offers a way to deal with the vicissitudes of life and death.

It also provides a moral framework for dealing with the daily events of human life like birth, marriage and death and also deals with major changes in society such as war and peace. Many believe that there is a religion in nature itself; this is called natural religion.

Defining the concept of religion is not easy because the terms a person uses to describe a religious phenomenon are a mix of theological beliefs, social values and ritual behavior. It is also not possible to draw clear boundaries between religion and other concepts like culture or philosophy or tradition because these concepts are interrelated.

The word religion is taken from the Latin religio, meaning “scrupulousness” or “devoutness”. Early formal definitions were based on social-psychological theories. Durkheim used the term to define the way in which religious beliefs and behaviors organize social solidarity. O’Dea and Wach applied the term to the whole spectrum of elicited human responses. This approach to the study of religion is known as a phenomenological one. This approach rejects the pretense of evaluating different religions normatively or at all and instead seeks to understand them systematically as they are experienced by human beings.

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