Religion is a term used to describe various kinds of social practices that are believed to have positive effects on human well-being. However, in many ways, religion is a disorganized and fragmented concept.
The history of the word religion shows that it has undergone a significant shift in its sense over time. Originally a Latin term used for scrupulous devotion, it was later retooled to refer to a social genus or cultural type.
Since the 19th century, there has been a strong reflexive turn in the social sciences and humanities as scholars have pulled the camera back to examine the constructed nature of the objects previously taken for granted as unproblematically “there”. It is a movement that has led some people to believe that religion is an invented category that reflects the influence of European colonialism on world cultures.
Some people also claim that the modern expansion of the concept of religion reflects the political character of this term. It is a tool invented by one group for their own purposes and then imposed on others. This, some argue, makes the concept a political tool that has been used to weaken and destroy the lives of people across the globe.
These critics point out that the concept of religion is a sociological tool that has been used to encroach on human freedom, and they argue that its use should be limited. They call on the President to appoint and the Senate to confirm judges who are sensitive to the role of religion in a society’s life.
A second issue that has arisen in recent years concerns the way in which one should define religion. Does a definition need to be sharply defined and narrow, or should it be more fuzzyedged and broad, allowing for ambiguous boundaries?
For example, should a definition of religion be grounded in the concepts of people who participate in religious activities, or should it be based on concepts in detached minds?
Similarly, should a definition be narrow or broad enough that it could apply to a wide variety of different phenomena and activities?
Another debate is over whether to use a monothetic or polythetic approach. A monothetic approach is a classic theory of concepts that claims that all instances accurately described by a given concept share some defining property that puts them in that class.
But some philosophers argue that such a theory is insufficient because it does not address the question of how to distinguish among the instances described by the term. Instead, a polythetic approach seeks to identify a set of necessary and sufficient conditions that all properly described instances of the given class must meet.
The structure of a religion is also an issue that philosophers have addressed. For example, Lemert (1975), Richard (1978), and Blasi (1980) have proposed the theory that a religion is characterized by an empirical-superempirical discontinuity between mundane and cosmic levels of order. This theory is in some ways compatible with the idea that a religion is an empirical-superempirical order, and it can be used to explain why a religion is a religion.