Defining Religion

theories of religion

  • Created by: Natasha
  • Created on: 30-09-09 12:44

Defining Religion

Religion has been defined in many ways:

  • A belief in some kind of supernatural power

  • An expression of this belief in collective worship

  • A set of moral values which guide action

  • A force, which brings people together and unifies society.

These definitions let in a variety of activities under the heading of religion. For example, people talk about football as the new religion. There have been many activities, which can be seen as supernatural – astrology, fortune telling, witchcraft and a belief in ghosts.

    • An organised collectivity of individuals, with
    • A shared system of beliefs and
    • A set of approved activities and practices.
  • As a starting point, most sociologists would probably agree that religions typically involve:

1 of 3

Substantive definition of religion

There are, of course, serious questions about the extent to which members of any of the world’s religions agree with fellow members’ beliefs and practices. Indeed, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism all experience divisions into often rival groupings. There are even questions about how organised a collectivity of individuals has to be to constitute a religion – especially since the advent of the Internet. Most sociological definitions of religion focus on what religion is – a substantive definition – or the roles religions play in society – functional definitions.

Substantive definition of religion

Belief in the supernatural – sociologists adopting substantive definitions have tried to identify what is distinctive about religious beliefs. For example, Max Weber saw religion as involving a belief in the supernatural that is some power above the forces of nature. This suggests a belief in a being or beings, powers or forces, which are in some ways superior to humans, and which cannot be vertified or explained by Western science.

2 of 3

Substantive definition of religion...***

Relating to the sacred - an alternative substantive definition is provided by Emile Durkheim. For him, the key to religious beliefs is not that they relate to a supernatural power or being, but that they relate to things which a society's members perceive as sacred.

Durkheim argued that, in all societies, people divide the

3 of 3


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Religion and beliefs resources »