The three definitions of religion

  • Created by: Fran19
  • Created on: 25-10-17 17:01

The three definitions of religion


  • Focus on content/substance of religious belief e.g. belief in God or the supernatural 
  • Weber- defines religion as a belief in a superior or supernatural power that is above nature and cannot be explained scientifically 
  • Exclusive- they draw a clear line between religious and non-religious beliefs 
  • Leaves no room for beliefs/practices that perform similar functions but do not involve belief in God 
  • Accused of Western bias as they exclude religions such as Buddhism


  • Religion is defined in terms of the social/psychological functions it performs for individuals in society 
  • Durkheim- defines religion in terms of the contribution it makes to social integration
  • Yinger- religion answers 'ultimate questions' about the meaning of life and what happens when we die
  • Inclusive- allow a wide range of beliefs and practices 
  • No bias against non-Western religions such as Buddhism 
  • Just because an institution helps integrate individuals into groups, doesnt make it a religion, e.g. collective chanting at football matches 
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The three definitions of religion


  • Interpretivist approach 
  • Argue that it's not possible to produce a single universal definition of religion
  • Interested in how definitions of religion are constructed, challenged and fought over 
  • Aldridge- Scientology is a religion for its followers, but several goverments have denied its legal status as a religion and sought to ban it. This shows that definitions of religion can be influenced by who has the power to define the situation 
  • Makes it impossible to generalise as many people have widely differing views about religion and the meanings behind it
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