Defining religion in social sciences
Source document: Religio. 2003, vol. 11, iss. 2, pp. -274
ISSN1210-3640 (print)2336-4475 (online)
License: Not specified license
If one wants to deal with the problem of defining religion in the field of social sciences, one needs to consider, at first, the broader aspects of the process of defining such a subject. What is of great importance here is the fact that the academic context is not the only context where religion is defined. There are also other areas that operate with definitions of religion – the ordinary language sphere and the institutional-administrative sphere (law, politics, economy). -- How religion is "operationalized" or "conceptualized there strongly influences every effort to define religion for academic and scientific purposes. For this, at least two important facts need to be borne in mind. -- First, it is the historical development of the term "religion" in the Western non-academic discourse. What the word "religion" means has not always been the same throughout history. The notion of what "religion" is has been constructed in the course of the history of Western civilization. As the centuries were passing, the meanings were changing. From a certain point of view, the very notion of religion as something autonomous is a sort of "invention" that has its origin in the era of the Enlightenment. -- Secondly, it is a fact that the given term is the established part of everyday, ordinary language of the people of the western culture, which is connected with the previous "historical" factor. In the meanings which the word "religion" has in modern Europe in ordinary speech, one can see clear traces of its earlier meanings brought from the past. -- In conclusion, it could be seen that not only every particular effort to create a definition of religion, but also the very idea of an "unbiased" definition of religion is the product of the specific cultural and social conditions. What the author of the article is calling for, is not any kind of resignation in defining religion. In his opinion, such a "strategy" is not even possible because at least an "implicit" definition is always present when "religion" is being dealt with. Thus, it is better to reflect our cultural biases at the beginning, and then, to establish our "explicit" criteria for what one understands by the term "religion". In doing so, we can avoid a lot of confusion and mistakes. Then, there would be enough space for discussing which definition of religion is the most suitable or the most practical and useful for further analysis.