Religion is a complex and important part of our society, making an imprint on culture, politics and everyday life. It is a source of guidance and comfort in times of trouble.
It is also a powerful force that influences our lives locally, nationally and globally. It can bring people together, but it also can promote social conflict.
Religious practices and beliefs can be found in many different cultures, reflected in literature, music, art and other forms of culture. It is a way of organising our lives and can guide us in making choices about our own personal morals.
Some definitions of religion use a single criterion monothetic, such as belief in spiritual beings or ultimate concern. Others, such as Emile Durkheim’s functional definition, drop the criterion and instead define religion as whatever system of practices unite a number of people into a moral community.
The broader range of what counts as religion has meant that the term has become a source of confounding debate in our modern society. A teeming variety of philosophies, ideologies and truth claims clamour for our attention, as globalization pushes peoples and cultures alike to engage with the world around them.
This has led to a shift in the philosophical study of religion away from substantive definitions and towards a polythetic approach. Advocates of this approach argue that religion is made up of a diverse set of societal features, and that these are the defining characteristics of the category.