Religion is a complex and multifaceted social practice.
A religion consists of a set of beliefs, practices, symbols, and traditions that form a socially shared way of life in a specific community. It focuses on the relationship between individuals and that which they consider holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence.
Religion is a universal human experience, affecting the majority of people in some way. It can be a source of excitement, meaning, and comfort for some and a source of anxiety or conflict for others. It can bring together people in groups, help them find a sense of identity and purpose, or provide a system of belief about the supernatural world.
Many philosophers have been interested in defining religion and the various ways it can be analyzed. Some have viewed it as a social genus, a category that can be accurately described and understood by any instance that shares certain essential properties. Other scholars have treated it as a prototype structure, with an underlying basic structure that can be explained in terms of its historical development.
Some philosophers, such as Durkheim and Tillich, have defined religion functionally, treating it as the beliefs and practices that generate social cohesion or orientation in life. These definitions have tended to be monothetic, in that they employ the classical view that every instance of the genus will share a defining property that puts it into the genus.
Another approach to analyzing religion is polythetic, or “conceptual-set” definitions that treat it as a complex or multifaceted social taxon. This is not a new concept, as Christian theologians traditionally studied the anatomy of their faith in terms of fides, fiducia, and fidelitas.
It is also true that some scholars have made the assumption that if one defines religion as a social genus, it can be treated as pan-human. However, this is an illusory claim because it assumes that the concept of religion can be formulated in terms of a social genus and that all of the instances in the genus must share some common properties.
The most important thing to remember, as a student of the philosophy of religion, is that it is not the concept of religion that must be defined but the phenomena that are said to be in the category of religion. This is the resemblance argument.
Using the resemblance argument, one can argue that if religion is a social genus, it can have two defining properties: necessary and sufficient. But this is not the only way to analyze the concept of religion: there are other types of approaches, such as phenomenological and hermeneutical.
As with most abstract concepts used to sort cultural types, the concept of religion has shifted and morphed over time. These shifting definitions of the term have been debated in the academic study of religion, and have often been discussed in terms of monothetic or polythetic approaches to the analysis of the concept.