Definitions of religion

  • Created by: Lilly
  • Created on: 13-05-14 18:26

Substantive definitions of religion

  • Foucs on content or substance of religious belief, such as belief in God or supernatural.
  • Weber- defines religion as 'belief in superior supernatural power that is above nature and cannot be explained scientifically.'
  • Exclusive- draw clear line between religious and non-religious belief. To be a religion a set of beliefs must include belief in god or the supernatural.
  • Taylor-  defines religion as 'belief in spiritual beings'
  • This definition conforms to widespread view of religion as belief in God.
  • However, leaves no room for beliefs and practices that perform similar functions to religion but do not involve belief in god.
  • Accused of western bias because they exclude religions such as Buddhism, which do not have Western idea of god.
1 of 4

Functional definitions

  • Define religion in terms of the social and psychological functions it performs for individuals/soc.
  • Durkheim - defines religion in terms of the contribution it makes to social intergration rather than any specific belief in god / supernaturl
  • Yinger- functions of religion include answering 'ultimate questions'
  • Bellah -  civil religion, binds people of different faiths in a multi-faith society together
  • Parsons - religion sacrialises norms and values
  • Advantage of this definition is that they are inclusive- allows us to include wide range of beliefs and practices that perform functions such as intergration.
  • Do not specify belief in god/ supernatural, no bias against non-western reglions such as Buddhism.
  • However, just because an institution helps intergrate indivudlas into groups does not make it a religion.
  • EG- collective chanting at football match might give individuals sense of intergration but does not mean it is a religion
2 of 4

Polytheitic definition

  • Define religion by creating a list of possible characteristics that make up religion but accept that none share all of the,
  • South - suggested list of features, concern of sacred, concern of godlike beings and human relationships with them, ritual and practice.
3 of 4

Social constuctionist definitions

  • Take interpretivist appraoch that focuses on how members of society themselves define religion. Argue that 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.
  • Interested in how definitions are constructed, challenged and fought over.
  • Aldrige- for its followers Scientology is a religion, whereas several governments have denied it's legal status as religion and sought to ban it. Shows that definitions of religion can be contested and are influenced by who has power to define this situation.
  • So not assume that religion involves belief in god/ supernatura,.
  • Their approach allows them to get close to meanings people give to religion, however this makes it impossible to generalise about the nature of religion since people may have widely differing views about what counts as a religion
4 of 4


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Beliefs in Society resources »