The Concept of Religion
Religion is a central part of many cultures. Understanding what people believe and why helps us to understand their traditions and history. This knowledge can also help us to connect with others who are different from ourselves and to appreciate the similarities we share.
The concept of religion is a social construct that has grown and evolved over time. The variety of practices that are now said to fall within this category and the fact that these practices have had a significant impact on individuals and societies throughout history make the study of religion an essential element of any cultural studies curriculum.
Different disciplines have different definitions of religion. Anthropologists legitimately use the concept to explore a key dimension of human experience in all its diversity and unruliness, while theologians study religious texts and doctrine to capture their fundamental dependence on a divine ordering principle. Philosophers, using the tools of logic, can study the structure and meaning of religions’ belief systems to examine questions of ontology and cosmology.
The study of religion is a challenging subject because the idea of what constitutes a religion is a subjective and constantly shifting one. This complexity has led to a variety of philosophical issues that are similar to those that arise when sorting any abstract concept such as literature or democracy by their properties.
One important issue is that some scholars are critical of the concept of religion as a scholarly category. They point out that the concept is deeply implicated in the history of Western statism and imperialism, and that the only appropriate scholarly stance toward it is one of criticism.