The Concept of Religion


Religion is the source of meaning and value in human life. It provides people with the basis for moral order and, at times, with answers to fundamental questions of great importance. It is so important to people that they are willing to live according to and, at times, die for their religions.

Today, it is common for the concept of religion to be defined as a taxon, a category-concept whose paradigmatic examples are the world’s so-called major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism). Alternatively, a more functional approach defines religion as whatever dominant concern serves to organize a person’s values. It would then include things like magic, art, and science that are not traditionally organized as religions but which, for example, occupy significant parts of people’s lives.

Moreover, some scholars have sought to avoid the claim that an evolving social category has an essence by arguing that what counts as a religion can be classified by the co-appearance of certain properties. These are sometimes referred to as polythetic definitions.

A more traditional, psychoanalytic interpretation of religion has focused on the role it plays in facilitating an individual’s psychological growth and development. The American scholar Erich Fromm modified Freudian theory, claiming that religion was based on a childish desire to remain attached to protecting figures and that authoritarian religions often revert to neurotic forms. More recently, sociologists have looked at how religion shapes the social structure of society. It has been found that religious communities tend to be more stable than secular ones because they impose costly requirements on members such as food taboos and fasts, constraints on material possessions, limitations on marriage and sex, and limits on communication with the outside world.