The Study of Religion


The study of religion has traditionally focused on the lexical definition of the term. However, lexical definitions have their limitations. For example, Buddhism is usually considered a religion, but capitalism is not. Some people think that pointing to referents can correct the definition. This is not necessarily the case. The main goal of academic study of religion is to improve the meaning and understanding of the term.

Monothetic approach

A monothetic approach to religion defines religion in terms of a single or limited set of essential properties. The criterion is a Yes/No question, and it produces sharp divisions between religion and non-religion. According to Tylor, a religion requires belief in a higher power, but excludes belief in a general order of existence, and in rituals, ethics, and scriptures.

Four characteristics

If we use the four characteristics of religion as a threshold, then a form of life has three or more of these characteristics, and we can call it a religion. On the other hand, if a form of life only has two characteristics, it would be a quasi-religion, and if it only has one, it would be nonreligious.

Function in society

Some people believe that religion has a negative effect on society, and that it should be discouraged. Others think that it creates a sense of community and binds people together. According to sociologists, religion creates norms and creates a collective consciousness.


Animism is a belief in the spiritual essence of objects. It holds that all things have life. For example, plants, animals, and humans have souls. Hence, they are considered to be alive.


Totemism is a system of symbols that unites people, and which has been used by humans for thousands of years. It is the basis of civilization, and has been a source of pride for many cultures. According to the ethnologer Sir James G. Frazer (1854-1941), totems help people form social groups and serve as the impetus for civilization. The origins of totems are disputed, and many researchers disagree on the exact definition.


Atheism is the lack of belief in any deities. The atheist position holds that there are no deities, and therefore, no need for religion.

You may also like