The Concept of Religion

Religion is a complex and fascinating subject to study. It is an incredibly important aspect of any culture, and studying it allows you to broaden your perspective and become well-rounded.

Many different disciplines work with the concept of religion. Anthropologists legitimately study religion as a key dimension of human experience in all its diversity and unruliness, while theologians are concerned with the specific content of religious beliefs and practices: the dogma that captures our fundamental dependence on a greater order of things. Intellectual historians and students of political thought also take a more analytical approach to the study of religion, studying particular religious traditions as coherent, inter-generational bodies of scholarly thinking.

The concept of religion was originally derived from the Latin word religio, which roughly approximates to “scrupulousness” or “conscientiousness.” It is perhaps appropriate that religion should be studied with such a rigorous attitude.

Most scholars use the term religion to refer to a set of beliefs and behaviors that appear in every culture. This realist view of religion, in which the concept operates as a taxonomic device to classify cultural phenomena, has prompted a number of critiques.

In recent years, a “reflexive turn” in the study of religion has challenged this assumption by pulling the camera back and looking at the constructed nature of the concept itself. These scholars have suggested that the fact that what one calls a religion depends upon how it is defined is an indication of its power and arbitrariness.

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