The Definition of Religion


Religion is the social genus and cultural type that includes such phenomena as worship, belief, rituals, community, social control, morality, ethics, and philanthropy.

Ideally, religion provides meaning and purpose to life, promotes the good of individuals, families, communities, states, and nations, and reduces the incidence of various social pathologies. It also improves health, learning, economic well-being, and self-control, reduces social anxieties, and may motivate people to act for positive social change.

Religious people are more likely to attend church services, pray regularly, and participate in other forms of religiosity than non-religious participants. They also report higher levels of social cohesion and more emotional bonding than the non-religious group.

A variety of anthropologists and sociologists have studied religion in different ways. Some emphasize a hermeneutic approach to culture that treats actions as if they are texts, while others focus on disciplinary approaches that see human subjectivity as a product of social structures.

Many researchers have argued that definitions should be based on the conceptions held by the participants in a particular religion, and that these definitions are not limited to isolated mental states but are embodied in social structures. This is the approach of the Verstehen school.

This is an approach that rejects both a functional and a substantive definition of religion, since each one can be used to produce a false image of a certain social actor (Weigert 1974). Runciman (1969) and Zeldin (1969) point out that it is not possible to make a working definition of religion without reintroducing the subjectivity that is produced by social structures.

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