Definitions of Religion
Religion is a phenomena in which people have a strong desire to orient their lives to a particular value system. It provides a source of comfort, guidance, morality and direction for those who follow it.
Religious traditions are a way of life that have developed over centuries in many parts of the world. They often involve the belief in gods and other supernatural beings, and can affect beliefs about morality, culture, behavior, and approach to writings, persons or places.
In the early twentieth century, scholars began to adopt a different approach to religion. They moved away from “substantive” definitions that determine whether something is a religion by its presence of an unusual kind of reality, and instead adopted a functional definition that defines religion in terms of its role in the lives of individuals.
A functionalist definition of religion posits that religion is any grouping of practices that unites people into a single social community and that entails a belief in a distinctive kind of reality (see Durkheim, 1912; O’Dea 1966). Such a definition has been influenced by the burgeoning field of cognitive science, which seeks to understand how human minds form theories about the nature of things.
In the last several decades, scholars have favored a more open polythetic definition of religion. These approaches depart from the classical theory of concepts, which holds that every instance that accurately describes a concept will share a defining property that determines its membership in that category. They instead look to what philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein calls a “family resemblance.” These resemblances may differ greatly among the diverse aspects of religion that have developed over time, but they are essentially family-related.