Religion is a complex concept that affects every human being. It is often seen as a way to bring people together, but it can also be a source of stress and division.
The study of religion has become more and more complicated over the last century. Attempts to capture the nature of religion from a single perspective or approach have failed to be successful.
Sociologists, psychologists and historians of religion, as well as philosophers, have sought to make sense of religion from different perspectives. Some have even tried to fashion a definition of religion.
A few decades ago, some scholars began to criticize these efforts. They argued that a better way to define religion was not to focus on one specific defining factor but to examine religion more broadly.
This approach is known as a monothetic definition of religion. It is based on the classical theory that every accurately described instance of a concept will share a defining property that makes it distinct from others.
Another type of definition, referred to as a polythetic definition, is based on the prototype theory. It argues that all instances of a concept must share a prototype structure that can be mapped by means of analysis.
This functional approach can be distinguished from a hermeneutical one that fixes upon a single interpretative key to unlock the mysteries of a phenomenon. Examples of this approach include Rudolf Otto’s use of the “holy” as a characterization of a universal experience.