The word religion refers to a variety of beliefs, practices, and traditions that many people believe in. Many of these practices have been known to cause peace and well-being, but they can also lead to social inequality and conflict. They can encourage people to help the poor, but they can also encourage exploitation and violence against other groups of people. Moreover, religious differences have been the source of many wars throughout history, including those between Jews and non-Jews.
The question of what makes a religion has generated a lot of discussion in several disciplines, such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy. Some scholars take a formal strategy in defining the concept of religion. These approaches focus on structures that resemble known cases, and they try to identify a set of properties that are necessary and sufficient for something to be a religion.
In contrast, other scholars take a functional approach in defining the concept of religion. These definitions drop the substantive requirement and instead define it by a particular role that a form of life can play in human lives. Emile Durkheim’s functional definition of religion is a prominent example of this approach. It defines a religion as whatever system of practices that unite a group of people into one moral community, whether or not those practices involve belief in unusual realities.
A third option is to take a mixed definition of religion, which recognizes both the need for a metaphysics and the need for axiology. In this way, it avoids the problems of both monothetic and functional definitions.