In many countries, religion has a profound influence on all aspects of life. It brings people together, provides them with moral guidelines and social support, and gives expression to their deepest emotions. It is also a source of tension and conflict, especially when those with different beliefs are confronted with one another.
The word “religion” originates from the Latin religio, meaning a feeling of scrupulous devotion and commitment. In ancient times, it was common to see people worshiping different gods and committing themselves to ritualized behaviors that were often incompatible with each other. The term was used as a synonym for these conflicts, as well as the more general concept of “nobis religio”, or “our way of worship”.
Since its inception, sociologists have debated how best to define religion. There have been functional approaches that are broadly inclusive and substantive definitions that are narrower. Most recently, scholars have embraced polythetic definitions, a form of typological analysis that attempts to use the crisscrossing and partially overlapping features of various phenomena to build up a broader picture.
One major criticism of functional definitions is that they are too inclusive, allowing almost any movement with a belief system and committed group of followers to be classified as a religion. They also ignore the fact that a lot of religious practices do not involve belief in a god and may have little in common with traditional religions. Another problem is that they often rely on the classical view that every instance accurately described by a concept will share a single defining feature. This is sometimes referred to as the prototype theory of concepts.