Religion is a set of social behaviors, practices and ethics that are regarded as important by an individual or society. It includes beliefs, rituals, traditions and customs that are aimed at identifying with the divine or supernatural realm of life.
The term religion was first used by ancient Greeks to describe a type of worship involving a group of deities, each with a specific commitment. This was a form of worship that involved taboos, promises, curses and transgressions. It was also a way of distinguishing rival groups of people who worshiped different gods.
Early definitions of the concept of religion were often based on philosophical and theological discussion about the nature of God and man’s relationship to him. Some of these were formulated by philosophers in a metaphysical or idealist perspective, such as Hegel and Comte, while others were more positivistic and materialist, such as Herbert Spencer.
Hegel’s philosophy had a strong emphasis on the spiritual and the supernatural in human history. Hegel believed that human culture was shaped by this element, which he saw as a “permanent force” or “the ultimate principle of the universe”.
It is not clear how Hegel arrived at this conclusion. However, it may be that he developed a philosophic conception of religion that was influenced by the emergence of religious ideas in his own society.
Some scholars have argued that the modern concept of religion is an invented category and was born of European colonialism. This argument is part of a reflexive turn that has pulled the camera back, so to speak, on religion and its uses by scholars.
This argument has been supported by a number of historians who have pointed out that the word religion is a taxon for a set of social practices, a category-concept whose paradigmatic examples are the so-called world religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
A historical typology of religion would, accordingly, map specific sets of analogically related affinities that are neither merely conceptual nor phenomenological but in the best sense historical. This is a challenge to some approaches that operate under the classical theory of concepts, which says that every instance accurately described by a concept will share a defining property that puts it in that category.
Other approaches, called polythetic, recognize more properties that are “common” or even “typical” of religions without being essential. These methods avoid the claim that an evolving social category has an ahistorical essence, and they are becoming increasingly popular in the study of religions today.
The most common method of analyzing the concept of religion is a monothetic approach. A monothetic approach, which was common until the twentieth century, identifies a single defining property that makes an instance of the concept religion. These definitions have tended to be more restrictive than those of a polythetic approach, which recognize a variety of properties that are “common” or even typical of religions, without being essential.
In addition to being more restrictive, these monothetic approaches tend to be more reductive and ethnocentric than those of a polythetic approach.