The Concept of Religion
Religion is a complex social phenomenon that can be a source of unity and cohesion, but it can also be a source of conflict. The history of the world shows that individuals, communities, and entire nations have engaged in discrimination and violence based on their religious beliefs.
Religion has a variety of functions in society (Emerson, Monahan, & Mirola, 2011). These include giving meaning and purpose to life; reinforcing social stability and cohesion; promoting healthy behaviors; helping people cope with their feelings; and encouraging people to work for positive social change.
The concept of religion was first used in the Latin language to describe people’s scrupulous devotion to particular gods. The word “religio” was adapted in the West to refer to a kind of social genus that includes a set of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions, a sort of taxon that can be found throughout human history.
Several attempts have been made to develop a conception of religion as a social genus or cultural type in order to understand its origins and development. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for example, the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico proposed a developmental account of Greek religion that included phases such as the divinization of nature, the divinization of powers, and the humanization of gods.
This realist view of the social reality behind the concept of religion is an important one for historians of religion. It requires a rigorous empirical investigation of the facts. However, it is often difficult to find adequate data.