The Concept of Religion

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Religion is a broad taxon of beliefs and practices that are embraced by millions around the world. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism are examples of religions. However, the concept of religion entails much more than the prevailing world religions. It is a concept that is applied to many sets of social practices that form an essential part of culture, as seen in the customs of funeral rites, for example.

The term “religion” was derived from the Latin religio, which means a feeling of scrupulousness or devotion to a cause or God. The term has a positive meaning and has been used as a source of comfort for believers, but it can also promote social conflict. Since ancient times, individual people and whole nations have been ready to persecute, kill, or go to war over religious differences.

Psychoanalytic thinkers have offered various explanations of religion. Freud’s view was that the emergence of religion was a result of the Oedipus complex, in which the human mind seeks attachment to protector figures. Erich Fromm modified this theory, claiming that religion in its negative form fosters neurotic behavior in its adherents.

Other scholars have been more functional in their analyses, arguing that religions are cultural universals. For instance, all societies practice rituals in response to death, although the specific rites differ between cultures and within religious affiliations. This functional definition of religion, sometimes referred to as the prototype theory of concepts, emphasizes that there are certain characteristics that all members of the religion class share.