Religion is a term that has been used for a wide range of social practices, including those involving belief in unusual realities and others that do not. It has also been used for a variety of social structures, including those that bring together groups of people into a moral community.
The word religion comes from the Latin religio, meaning “scrupulousness” or “devotedness.” It refers to a system of religious beliefs and practices. It may also involve a belief that certain moral teachings have divine authority.
As the word has evolved in usage, it has often been interpreted narrowly, emphasizing behavior or attitude rather than spirituality and supernaturalism. It can also be used to describe a particular type of social formation, such as tribal or state religions.
A system of beliefs, practices, and behaviors organized around a particular deity or set of gods and involving rituals, prayers, and confessions of doctrinal belief. It often involves a hierarchy of leaders and members who administer the practice and make decisions about how the worship of the gods should be conducted.
Originally, the term religion referred to a form of scrupulous devotion, a way of life that required strict morality and strict behavior, as well as commitments to certain gods. This sense of the concept was largely abandoned as the word shifted to describe a more general type of social practice.
In the twentieth century, a variety of definitions emerged that drop the substantive element and instead focus on the functional role that a social form can play in the lives of those who believe in it. These include Emile Durkheim’s (1912) view that religion consists of whatever system of practices unites a number of people into a single moral community (whether or not those practices involve belief in unusual realities).
One can also use the word to describe a specific kind of social formation, such as a state religion, that has a formalized doctrine and a leadership structure. This is a form of organizational religion that is usually headed by a full-time leader.
There are many variations of this type of religion, each with a different degree of formality. Despite their differences, some are quite similar in terms of underlying beliefs and the kinds of practices that they entail.
A wide variety of forms of this type of religion are now considered to be “religious” and are sometimes grouped together as the so-called “world religions.” These include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism.
The problem with this approach, however, is that it ignores the fact that these various forms of religion are not homogenous or monolithic. Some even have a variety of family resemblances, such as the Southern Baptists of the United States or Russian Orthodoxy.
As a result, it is difficult to assess which of these alternative definitions are right and wrong. The only way to do so is to offer a definition that has some sort of structure, which is the goal of a polythetic approach.