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Methods of Defining Religion

            Since the eighteenth century, when the first rudimentary beginning was made in the study of religion in a scientific manner, scholars have been confronted by the problem of definition, which became more complicated with the rise of a philosophical humanism in Western Europe that denied the notion of the supernatural, (Harrison, 2006:1). Few seem to have difficulty in distinguishing between religious and secular institutions, yet there is widespread discrepancy regarding what "religion" actually means. In fact, some go so far as to question whether there is anything at all distinctive about religions. Hence, formulating a definition of "religion" that can command wide assent has proven to be an extremely difficult task. In this article I will endeavor to explain why "religion" is a challenging concept to define and citing some scholarly references in my argument. I conclude in my preamble that there are pragmatic reasons for favouring the formerly popular view that essentialist definitions of "religions" are inadequate, and that religions should be construed, instead, as possessing a number of "family resemblances." .
             According to Alatas (1977), religion, as a dimension of human life is believed to have been present since the earliest times. There have been suggestions that the remote ancestors of modern man must have possessed some kind of religion, since there is evidence that their dead were buried in a particular position with tools placed at their sides, indicating belief in a life after death. Due to its extended history, and its roots deeply embedded in certain human needs difficult to specify, religion has manifested itself in innumerable variants. While it is impossible to characterize all elements or common denominators of phenomena incorporated under religion, and while knowledge of all such elements as have so far been discovered does not itself explain religion, it is sufficient to enable us to distinguish religion clearly from other types of human psychology and behavior.

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