“Everybody knows what religion is, and so, we do not need to define it.” Critically analyse this assertion in light of the problems associated with the precise definition
The study of religion may be as old as humankind itself according to one author. Defining religion is difficult as there are many definitions as there are many authors. The word religion is the most difficult to define because of the lack of a universally accepted definition. Specifically the root meaning of the word religion can be traced to Latin. Relegare or religion means to bind oneself, emanating from the Latin religio, which is translated to re-read emphasising tradition passing from generation to generation. Douglas Davies says “some have simply described religion as a belief in spiritual beings.” (10). In the book The World Religion there is a suggestion of approaches for tackling the question of religion such as viewing it anthropologically, sociologically, through history, in a scholarly way, theologically and by reductionism. In this paper I will try and assess the definition of religion from aforementioned views and identify the problems of defining religion. James Cox states that in their introductory textbook on religion the American scholars Hall, Pilgrim and Cavanagh identify four characteristic problems with traditional definitions of religion; these are: vagueness, narrowness, compartmentasation and prejudice (9). The authors argue that vagueness means there are so many definitions that they do not distinguish the matter of religion from other fields of study. Tilich’s defines religion as ultimate concern or a simple idea of religion meaning living a good life (9). Living a good life is subjective to an individual since the concerns and values we have are influenced by culture and the community that we live in. The definition of religion may also be viewed as narrow by means of compensating for the vagueness. In most cases the study of religion is fixated on a certain field or line of thought. Hall, Pilgrim and Cavanagh use Thomas Aquinas’ claim that religion denotes a relationship with a God, thereby excluding non-atheistic or polytheistic forms of religion (Cox 9). Most definitions are narrowed down to religious beliefs such as Christianity among other world religions. In narrowing down the definition of religion it excludes other religions such as African Traditional Religions. Due to the fact that African religions lack most characteristics needed of World religions they are excluded from being religion. Atheism is a growing phenomena in the world that does not believe in a God, which I feel have its own belief system. Many definitions focus too narrowly on only a few aspects of religion; they tend to exclude those religions that do not fit well. It is apparent that religion can be seen as a theological, philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and psychological phenomenon of human kind. To limit religion to only one of these categories is to miss its multifaceted nature and lose out on the complete definition. The same authors by way of compartmentalisation explain religion in terms of just one single, special aspect of human life. This compartmentalisation reduces religion to one part of human life and ignores its relevance to the totality of human existence. They also argue against Schleiermachers’ definition of religion as a feeling of absolute dependence which might reduce religion to a mere psychological condition, (Cox 9). By compartmentalisation you are taking the part of the whole to be the whole, thereby reducing religion to one aspect of human existence ignoring the totality of existence. Religion is not just a feeling but encompasses the totality of existence in a human being his beliefs, culture and language. Religious or religion is not static but dynamic from one generation to another and they are ever developing in accordance with time and nature. Religion is not only a compartment in life of a human...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document