Religion is a social category that encompasses a wide range of practices, beliefs and cultural phenomena. The categorization of a practice as a religious one typically involves the assertion that it has certain properties, such as a belief in a supreme being or a desire to propitiate that being. These and other defining features of religion can be identified and articulated in a variety of ways. Many of these are reflected in a classic definition of religion that includes belief, devotional and ritual observances and participation in religious institutions. A similar definition that incorporates theological claims, such as those of a particular religious sect, is also common.
Historically, the academic study of religion has tended to take a “monothetic” approach, that is, it has operated with the classical view that every instance that accurately describes a concept will have at least one property that sets it apart from other instances of the same concept. However, the last several decades have seen the emergence of a number of “polythetic” approaches that abandon this classical view in favor of a more sophisticated model for how concepts are formed and evolved. These models recognize that the characteristics that define a religious practice are not necessarily innate but are rather selected for and adopted at a specific time by a particular group of people, which is often known as a “prototype” religion.
A polythetic definition of religion is a powerful tool that allows us to understand and analyze religions in a more holistic way. It also provides a valuable tool for the study of religious history. However, it must be understood that a polythetic definition of religion cannot produce a clear boundary between religious and non-religious practices because it is anchored to a particular form of life at a particular point in time.
The most important thing to remember when studying religion is that it’s a complex and ever-changing concept. It’s also important to avoid a reductionist view of it that only sees the superficial and trivial aspects of religion. To better understand each of the major religions in the world, you can start by researching their history, finding scholars within and outside of those religions, and talking to people who practice them.
In addition to the Project Muse database, there are a number of scholarly journals that offer articles on Religion. Some of these journals have extensive backfiles that are available for purchase. Others are a part of the new Emerging Scholars Network, which is available on JSTOR. This collection offers access to articles published in 3-5 years of the most highly respected journals in the world. This collection is a great resource to find the latest in scholarly research on Religion. It also includes access to a number of full-text books on Religion from reputable publishers. This collection is a must have for any academic library.