The Concept of Religion


A contested concept that straddles a wide range of intellectual fields, religion is a difficult concept to define. Some definitions are broad and include such non-religious beliefs as communism and atheism; others are narrow and exclude religions like Buddhism and religious Satanism that have no belief in any supernatural beings. The definition of religion can also be analyzed from both a functional perspective (what it does) and a substantive perspective (what it is).

Functionalism focuses on the social functions that a religion serves. These include the socialization of individuals, group solidarity, and the establishment of moral standards. The concept of religion can be viewed as a kind of social glue that holds a society together, binding it into a cohesive whole.

Substantive perspectives focusing on what religion is believe to be its roots in human curiosity about life and death and fear of forces beyond control. Humans desire to know what happens after death, to find a loving god that watches over humanity, and for a life that has meaning.

A plethora of theories and concepts have been offered to explain the origin of religions. One of the most popular theories is the evolutionary theory that religions developed from primitive religious rites. Another theory is the cultural transmission of religions, which states that religions develop as a response to particular social needs in a specific culture.

In the social sciences, scholars have tended to analyze religions from both a functional and a substantive perspective. For example, the social psychologist Émile Durkheim defined religion as a form of organized solidarity that gives people common values and common goals. The theologian Paul Tillich adopted this approach when he defined religion as any ultimate concern that binds people together.

Some scholars of religion have criticized both the functional and substantive approaches to the study of religion, asserting that they are based on cultural epochs and assumptions about how religion should be studied. They argue that it is difficult to compare different religions and that a more useful way to analyze them is to look at the way they actually are in the lives of those who practice them.

In an ideal world, religion would spend less time talking about the goodness of the Creator and more time showing that goodness to each other and to those who are not of their faith. This will help to strengthen communities, not weaken them. Religion should operate like a non-profit that uses its resources to help those in need. It should not be crowded out of every activity that the government gets involved in. This is why the Senate should ask every candidate for a federal judge to clarify their views on both the role of religion in public life and their understanding of the Founding Fathers’ intent on this issue. This will make it easier for the President to appoint judges who are sensitive to the role of religion in our society. In doing so, the Senate will be ensuring that religious freedom is preserved for the future of our country.