Comparing Religions


Religion plays a big role in the lives of many people. It can help bring people together, but it can also be a source of conflict and stress. In some cases, it has led to persecution and wanton bloodshed over the centuries. And it can be difficult to measure, as so much of the religious life takes place orally and in private.

In addition, religion is complex and varied. It is hard to compare different religions normatively (a task that, on the other hand, is arguably necessary and unavoidable for philosophy and theology). Consequently, comparative study of religion has tended to be phenomenological and descriptive. Scholars try to capture the essence of a religion by describing its beliefs and practices in terms of what they make people feel, think and do.

For example, some scholars have argued that the idea of “religion” is a human construct, and that it is a mistake to think of it in objective terms. Others have criticized this notion, saying that to ignore the complexities of religion would lead to a naive understanding of it.

Other scholars have adopted a functional approach to religion, trying to explain its role in a society. One example is Emile Durkheim’s definition, which focuses on the social function of religion in creating solidarity. Another is Paul Tillich’s definition, which focuses on the axiological function of religion in organizing values.

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