Religion has long occupied a central place in the lives of many people. It has served as a source of identity and has shaped culture, art, and technology. It has also impacted politics and the economics of nations. In addition, it has contributed to social problems such as poverty, crime, and violence.
In the field of sociology, the study of Religion has traditionally been informed by a variety of disciplines including Anthropology, History, Psychology, Philosophy, and Sociology. As the number of religious phenomena continues to increase around the world, the need for a more exact definition of religion has become increasingly pressing. Such a definition is necessary in order to gain a more accurate picture of the nature and dynamics of this phenomenon.
While the semantic range of the concept religion has expanded, its senses have also shifted over time. It has gone from a term that refers to scrupulous devotion to one that includes many types of practices and beliefs. It has been characterized as cosmic, polytheistic, theistic, and functional.
The latter approaches see religion as something that functions to create social solidarity or to provide orientation in life. Emile Durkheim, for example, saw religion as a form of group-identity that is important to society and which serves as a basis for self-respect. Those who take a functional approach to religion also argue that the concept of religion cannot be wrong because it names an inevitable feature of human culture.