A History of Religion


Religion has played a central role in human history. Some religions have been ahistorical, grounded in claims to revelation either by faith or based on evidence derived from religious experience, while others are firmly historical.

The term “religion” has developed a rich and complex meaning over the centuries. It has shifted from a definition that used it to denote scrupulous devotion to one that defines social practices.

Durkheim argued that religions, even when they decline, show the strength of societal bonds. Consequently, they are able to withstand the attacks of science and still maintain their integrity.

Moreover, they help promote the health of individuals, families, states, and nations. They improve learning, economic well-being, self-control, and self-esteem. They reduce the incidence of social pathologies, including out-of-wedlock births, crime, delinquency, drug and alcohol addiction, and health problems.

Until recently, most studies of religion were monothetic, using the classical view that any correctly described concept will share a single defining property. But polythetic approaches have emerged, which recognize that religions may have a prototypical structure rather than a fixed essence.

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