Religious definitions

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  • What is religion?
    • Functional
      • Define religion in terms of its uses and purposes for individuals and societies.
      • As religion is a product of society, it needs to be defined in terms of its contributions to society.
      • Yinger (1970) " Religion is a system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group of people struggles with the ultimate problems of human life".
      • Criticisms: Too broad + assume that religion plays a useful role in society.
    • Polythetic
      • Define religion by creating a list of possible features that make up a religion. - Accept that no one example will share them all.
      • identifies overlapping factors that most religions share.
      • Southwold (1978) suggests: a concern with the sacred, rituals and practices, beliefs based on faith.
      • Criticisms: not clear how many factors need to be shared to be considered a religion. As well as the decision of what should be included in the list.
    • Substantive
      • Attempt to explain what religion actually is.
      • Tylor (1903) "Religion is the belief in spiritual beings".
      • Durkheim (1915) "Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things".
        • Group activity.
        • Certain symbols are imbued with sacred powers.
      • Criticisms: The problem of which beliefs should be viewed as religious and which shouldn't.


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