The pragmatics of defining religion in a multi-cultural world
Few seem to have difficulty in distinguishing between religious and secular institutions, yet there is widespread disagreement regarding what “religion” actually means. Indeed, some go so far as to question whether there is anything at all distinctive about religions. Hence, formulating a definition of “religion” that can command wide assent has proven to be an extremely difficult task. In this article, I consider the most prominent of the many rival definitions that have been proposed, the majority falling within three basic types: intellectual, affective and functional definitions. I conclude that there are pragmatic reasons for favouring the formerly popular view that essentialist definitions of “religions” are inadequate, and that religions should be construed, instead, as possessing a number of “family resemblances.” In so arguing, I provide a response to the view that there is nothing distinctive about religions, as well as to the recent claim that religions do not exist.
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