Definitions of Religion

What is religion? How is it defined?

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Definitions of Religion

Substantive: Focus on content or substance of belief. Weber: defines religions as belief in superior power that is above nature and cannot be explained scientifically. Conform to widespread view of religion. But leaves no room for beliefs that perform similar functions to religion.

Functional: Defines it in terms of social or psychological functions it performs for individuals/society. E.g. Durkheim defines religion in terms of contrib. it makes to social integration, rather than specific belief in God. Inclusive. (Includes wide range of beliefs.) Negative: football chanting.

Social Constructionist: not possible to produce single universal definition of religion. No assumption that belief in god=religion. Allows them to get close to the meaning the individual gives to religion. Impossible to generalise.

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Functionalism and Religion

Parsons  also offers an important interpretation of religion. He argues that religion helps to answer 'eternal' questions, such as questions concerning suffering, justice and death. For example suffering tests a persons faith, whilst villians get there comumpance in the after life and so on. Religion then, Parsons argues makes sense of the meaningless and helps people adjust.

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