Religion is a term used to describe a set of beliefs and practices. There are many different religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam.
Religious beliefs are often very influential in political life. They affect a country’s laws and are important to its citizens. For example, in the United States, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects all aspects of religious observance and practice.
A Changing Definition of Religion
Over the past half century or so, there has been a growing number of debates about how to define religion. The most common approach has been the “monothetic” or “classical” approach.
Those who favor this approach to religion argue that each instance of a given form of life that accurately describes the concept will share a defining property. They also argue that when enough of these defining properties are present to a sufficient degree, the phenomenon is considered a religion.
Another approach to defining religion is the “polythetic” or “family resemblance” approach. This approach has two key parameters: the threshold number of defining features and the class’s prototype structure.
The first key parameter is the number of defining characteristics that a social practice must have to be considered a religion. Those who adopt this polythetic approach usually array a master list of “religion-making” features and claim that when a social practice has a large enough number of these characteristics, it is considered a religion.
This approach to defining religion is based on a theory of concepts that has gained popularity in the past decade or so. It is the “prototype theory of concepts” (Laurence and Margolis 1999).