Religion is a system of beliefs and practices that give meaning to people’s lives. It is also a social force that contributes to individual well-being and society’s stability.
Historically, the term “religion” was used to distinguish different systems of belief and ritual practice from each other. The idea was that these differences were significant and that there were important reasons why they differed from one another.
In the past century, researchers have debated how best to define this concept. Some have taken a monothetic approach, adopting the classical view that every instance accurately described by the concept has shared a defining property that put it in this category.
Others have adopted a polythetic approach, focusing on the way that religion has evolved as a defining characteristic of specific social formations over time. They use these approaches to investigate a broad range of phenomena that are commonly associated with the concept of religion.
The polythetic approach is useful for analyzing the nature of religion’s emergence and development, the way it has become embedded in specific cultural and historical contexts, and its meaning for contemporary societies. It is especially useful for investigating the impact of religion on social and economic structures.
Research has shown that religion is a powerful social agent that improves the health and well-being of individuals, families, states, and nations. It helps people to live in stable relationships, reduces out-of-wedlock births and crime, increases learning, economic well-being, and self-control, and lowers the incidence of social pathologies. It is also an effective agent of social control and social cohesion, and helps to make people more tolerant and compassionate.