The Concept of Religion

Religions are a vital aspect of human culture. They provide people with a sense of purpose and meaning in life, and they often serve as an anchor for morality. They also establish codes of recognition that allow people to recognize and assess their friends, foes and neighbours. Religions help people make the most of their abilities and resources and to overcome limitations that would otherwise be insurmountable. They provide communities with a framework for the conduct of social relationships and for dealing with threatening or hostile environments. They bring to people a sense of order and security in their personal lives and, for some societies, they extend beyond the family to form extended families of nations or of all the world’s peoples.

Philosophers of religion have attempted to deal with the problems associated with defining this subject. They have found that the use of ordinary language to define religion is not only inadequate but also often leads to confusion. It is important that a definition should be clear and logically consistent, and one of the best methods of doing so is to compare religions with each other. The concept of religion that emerges from this process is an analogous notion rather than a univocal one.

Emile Durkheim emphasized that it is the functions of religion in society, rather than a particular set of religious beliefs or practices, that are important for understanding religion. His insights continue to influence sociological thinking today. Studies have shown that religiosity is linked to self-discipline, altruism, humility and obedience to authority. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) includes several of these traits as positively correlated with religion.

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