Religion has served many purposes in human life: it has inspired great art and architecture; it has informed the development of agriculture, music, drama, and poetry; it has acted as a source of moral beliefs and behaviors. It has also helped people to find comfort during the loss of loved ones, and it can provide a sense of community and tradition that help people cope with life’s challenges. It has even been found that religious people may be healthier than those who are not.
The vast semantic range of practices that are now said to fall within the concept of religion has raised a number of philosophical questions, which in turn have contributed to a number of approaches to analyzing the term. Most of these attempts to analyze religion have been “monothetic” in that they operate on the classical view that a concept can accurately be understood by defining its instances in terms of a set of necessary and sufficient properties.
Over the past few decades, however, scholars have begun to pull back the camera lens and examine the construction of the objects that we have taken for granted as unproblematically “there”. This trend has led to what is sometimes called a reflexive turn in the social sciences and humanities, where scholars have questioned whether any of our concepts are truly neutral. Some have argued that the fact that the notion of religion shifts according to one’s perspective, and that it is defined by a particular society for its own reasons, shows that the idea of religion is itself ideological.