Polythetic Definitions of Religion


Religion is a system of beliefs and practices involving behavior that is organized around worship of an all-powerful deity. It usually involves behaviors such as prayer, meditation, and participation in collective rituals. It also typically includes the belief that certain moral teachings have divine authority and the recognition of people, places, texts, or objects as holy or sacred.

A number of scholars have argued that religious phenomena arise out of humans’ need to have meaning and value. They suggest that, just as there are other sources of human values (science, family, etc.), humans need to have faith and belief in something if they are to be fully human.

This need to have a source of values may help explain the widespread use of religion, particularly in the West. Some people who have no belief in supernatural beings or an afterlife or an explicit metaphysics are still drawn to a form of religion, because they believe it offers them a sense of community and belonging.

Polythetic Definitions: The New Approach

One of the main approaches to defining religion is to take it as a taxon for sets of social practices, a category-concept that has been adopted today by many philosophers. It is often taken to be a taxon for so-called “world” religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism.

This approach has a number of problems. Firstly, it is not universal and, more importantly, it does not distinguish between the different kinds of religious practices that exist in the world. Secondly, it is often based on an inaccurate assumption of what a defining property for a social genus should be.

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