Defining Religion


Religion is a cultural system of beliefs, values, and behaviors that have been practiced for thousands of years. People have used religion to help them meet life’s challenges, stay positive and resilient and have a sense of purpose and community.

It has also been linked to a number of benefits, including health, learning, economic well-being, social connection and empathy. Some studies have even found that people who are religious-defined here as those who attend religious services regularly-are happier than those who don’t.

Defining Religion

A number of definitions of religion have emerged over time. One common approach has been to use a monothetic definition, in which every instance accurately described by the concept shares a defining property that makes it a religion.

Another approach has been to employ a polythetic definition, in which there are multiple ways in which the concept operates. This allows for a much more varied range of cases to be considered as religions.

The polythetic approach can be useful for a variety of reasons, but it is sometimes necessary to anchor the concept in some way. For example, if it is important to define religion as a prototypical structure, then one might choose to limit the properties set to a threshold number and compare forms of life that do not satisfy that number.

In addition, if it is important to avoid introducing any gaps in the conceptual spectrum, then a limiting monothetic approach is often preferable. This may also allow for some flexibility in the way in which the defining property is assessed.