Religion encompasses different spiritual, transcendental, and faith-based systems of beliefs. Its global influence and pervasiveness make it an important area to study. The study of religion is often combined with the study of culture, as it is often a central part of one’s cultural identity and can impact how they live and interact with others.
The concept of religion has a complicated history. It originally referred to scrupulous devotion or devotedness, and this sense of religion is captured in the Latin term religio. During the 19th century, three social theorists used the concept to refer to a type of social phenomenon: Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx. These social theorists were among the founders of modern sociology, and their ideas helped shape how researchers think about the relationship between society and religion.
Since then, scholars have tried to understand religion through a variety of lenses. Some have focused on the characteristics that identify a religion, while others have sought to define it functionally, as the beliefs and practices that generate social cohesion or provide a sense of orientation in life. These definitions have generally been called monothetic or polythetic, depending on whether they are based on a single or set of essential properties.
Stipulative or formal definitions of religion tend to limit the number of properties that are required for something to be considered a religion. These definitions may be either open or closed, and the former allow for a wide range of examples to fit into the category while the latter creates clear boundaries around what is and is not a religion.