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Using Material from Item a and Elsewhere, Briefly Examine Some of the Problems in Defining Religion (18 Marks)

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Using material from Item A and elsewhere, briefly examine some of the problems in defining religion (18 marks)
We try to define religion in order to understand and know what we are studying, along with that it helps us to know what we are measuring and the definition used can affect how much religion we actually find. Organisations that are seen as religions can then be seen as a charity by the government, meaning that they pay less tax to the government compared to other businesses.
Item A highlights the fact that there is not just one way of defining religion and it is up to the individual to decide how they define religion as a whole. For example Robertson states that religion is “the existence of supernatural beings which have a governing effect on life”; whereas Tylor argues that religion came into being to explain events and experiences that had otherwise appeared inexplicable, for example dreams, visions and death.
The functional definition says what religion does; it’s purpose or function and what its contribution to society may be. Religion unites people together in communities, provides a sense of belonging and a sense of common identity. It also helps people by giving explanations for why people die and why there is suffering, it gives people comfort and hope for better things in life. This definition tends to be broad and is called inclusivity because they include so much, often it even includes things that not everyone would see as religious.
Although sometime this particular definition is seen as too inclusive and if we use this definition we would find a lot more religion in the world than if another definition is used.
A substantive definition tells us what religion is, for example the content/substance of religion; this includes the supernatural beliefs, beliefs in God, the afterlife, etc.
This definition is narrow and criticised for being too restrictive or exclusivist – they make it difficult for something to qualify as a religion. For example if we say that a religion has to have a “belief in God” then can Buddhism be seen as a religion? As it doesn’t have a God or an afterlife. When using a substantive definition for religion a lot less religious groups and actual religions will be found.
Lastly is the social constructionist definition, this takes an interpretive approach that generally focuses on how individuals define religion. They have argued that it isn’t possible to produce a single and universal definition to cover every religion all over the world, as individuals and groups vary so much. They are interested in how definitions are constructed and argued over, for example Alan Aldridge shows how scientology is seen as a religion by its followers and some countries but several governments refuse to accept it as a religion, some have banned it. This shows how definitions can be contested and are influenced by those who have the power to define the situation.
Social constructionists do not assume that religion always involves belief in God or that it performs similar functions for everyone.
So therefore, it is too hard to assign religion with a set definition because there are so many different way of defining it and there are so many different ranges of religions, from Buddhism (where there is no belief in God) to Christianity (with a belief in God, the afterlife and many more things).

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