What is religion?

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  • What is religion?
    • Substantive religions
      • These focus on the content or substance of religious beliefs, such as a belief in God or the supernatural.
      • Weber: defines religion as belief in a superior or supernatural power that is above nature and cannot be explained scientifically.
      • They're exclusive (draw a clear line between religious and non-religious beliefs)
      • To be a religion a set of beliefs must include a belief in God or the supernatural.
        • Defining a religion in this way leaves no room for beliefs and practices that perform similar functions to religion but do not involve a belief in God.
      • Conform to a widespread view of religion as a belief in God.
      • Accused of Western bias because they exclude religions such as Buddhism, which do not have the Western idea of God.
    • Functional definitions
      • Define religion in terms of social and psychological functions it performs for individuals or society.
      • Durkheim: defines religion in terms of the contribution it makes to social integration rather than any specific belief  in God or the supernatural.
      • They're inclusive (allow us to include a wide range of belief and practices that perform functions such as integration)
      • No Western bias
    • Social Constructionist definition
      • Take an interpretivist approach that focuses on how many members of society themselves define religion.
      • It is not possible to produce a single, universal definition of religion to cover all cases, since in reality different individuals and groups mean very different things by "religion."
      • Interpretivists are interested in how definitions are constructed, challenged and fought over.
      • Aldridge: For its followers, society is a religion whereas many governments have denied its legal status as a religion and have sought to ban it.
      • Don't assume that there must be a belief in God or the supernatural, or that it performs similar functions for everyone in society.
      • Allows them to get closer to the meanings that people themselves give to religion.
      • Makes it impossible to generalise definitions of religions as everyone holds a different meaning


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