What is religion: Definitions


There are three main ways in which sociologists define religion: substantive, functional and social constructionist.

Substantive definitions:

These focus on the content or substance of religous belief, such as the belief in God or the supernatural.

For example: Weber defines religion as a belief in a superior or supernatural power which is above nature and cannot be explained scientifically.

Substantive definitions are exclusive as they draw a clear line between religious and non-religious beliefs.

To be a religon, a set of beliefs must include a belief in God or the supernatural.

They conform to a widespread view of religion as belief in God.

However, defining 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.

They are accused of Western bias because they exclude religions such as Buddhism, which do not have the Western idea of God.

Functional defintions:

Functional definitions define religion in terms of the social or psychological functions that it performs for individuals or society.

For example: Durkheim defined religion in terms of the contribution that it makes to social intergration rather than any specific belief in God or the


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