The Concept of Religion
The concept of religion, defined in a variety of ways, has become increasingly common in the modern world. It can be applied to the various practices and belief systems of people in all continents.
It has also become a defining feature of many social structures and political systems in the Western world. It is the subject of a vast range of academic disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, psychology, and economics, as well as politics, philosophy, history, theology, and music.
A number of scholars have attempted to define religion in a way that is free of the hegemonic, Eurocentric bias that is characteristic of the discipline. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, for example, has argued that the term is an invented category that goes hand in hand with European colonialism and should therefore be abandoned.
Some critics have argued that the idea of religion should be discarded because it is subjective, in the sense that there are no objective criteria for determining whether or not something is true or false. In addition, a large number of beliefs and practices in the religions are not easily observable, since they involve such things as stories, myths, and rituals.
Still others have argued that the concept of religion should be replaced by another concept. For them, it would be more appropriate to say that the idea of religion is a type of social taxon, a category-concept that names a set of different social practices.
As a social taxon, the concept of religion is typically used to label sets of social practices that are paradigmatic for a particular geographical region or a specific cultural group, for example, the world religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. It is a taxon that has been defined to include such diverse things as religious beliefs, cultic practices, and ritual behavior.
But it is not a taxon for social reality in itself, and the notion of religion as such is only a historical development, a project that emerged in the context of comparative studies, a period during which the study of religions became more widespread.
This is why the study of religion has tended to focus on its conceptual dimension, with less attention to its material and cultic aspects. This tendency is largely the result of nineteenth-century anthropology, which insisted that religion was a mental phenomenon and did not pay any attention to its social or structural dimensions.
The problem with this approach is that it is based on a false assumption, namely that the study of religion must be restricted to its cognitive and moral aspects. This view overlooks a substantial amount of research that has been conducted over the last two hundred years on the topic.
It is therefore important to take a more comprehensive view of the study of religion, including an understanding of how it is structured and the relationship between its cognitive and cultic dimensions. It is especially vital to understand the role that religion plays in human life, as it is often a powerful influence on how we think about ourselves and our place in the world.