chapter  1
18 Pages

Religion and the Problem of Definition

Words and concepts have a history; their meanings, the terms with which they're associated, and the objects or referents they select from the world change over time. For the conservationists, the keys to defining a "wetland" were threefold. Just like a "wetland", "religion" can be defined in lots of different ways, depending on whose interests we want to serve. The only "religions" of particular concern in the definitional disputes of the sixteenth century were Catholicism and Protestantism. Most scholars of religion have moved away from this explicitly ethnocentric, Christian perspective. It is therefore incorrect to say that all religions are about private matters, belief, faith, the supernatural, spirituality, mystical experience, or anything else. "Religion" might be no more useful in an academic setting than "crazy" is in a psychology class. Because the colloquial use of the word "religion" groups together so many dissimilar things, these generalizations are simply not true.