The History of Religion

Religion is an incredibly diverse phenomenon and the study of it has had a long and varied history. Because of the varying cultural traditions that have emerged throughout the world, no single approach has come to dominate. But there are certain basic assumptions that have helped shape the field.

One important assumption is that people who consider themselves religious have some conception of the sacred. The sacred can be a person, a group of people, or a place. Sacred texts may also include written scriptures (like the Bible, Torah, and Quran) or spoken words of worship (like Vedas, Hindu Upanishads, and Zoroastrian Avesta).

Another key assumption is that religions have some kind of social impact. The German sociologist Emile Durkheim (1818-1883) is perhaps the most influential thinker in this regard. He emphasized the importance of social impact by arguing that religion reinforces and perpetuates societal stratification. His writings continue to influence sociological thinking today about the functions of religion.

Some scholars believe that a proper understanding of religion requires a view of it as a universal feature of human culture. This is sometimes called a “functionalist” perspective. However, this view is not without problems. For example, some scholars have argued that the functional definition of religion overlooks the fact that many religions do not claim universality and that even those religions which do claim to be universal can be seen as containing some culturally specific features. This argument has led to a movement toward a more “materialist” approach to religion.

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