The History of Religions


Religion is the name given to a system of beliefs and practices that unite a group into a social organization or moral community. It ideally serves several functions: it gives meaning and purpose to life, reinforces social unity and stability, provides psychological and physical well-being, and may motivate people to work for positive social change.

Religions differ in many ways, including their approaches to truth, Scripture, behavior, and reason. They also have different perspectives on tradition, tolerance, unity, conformity, authority, deity, doctrine, salvation, morality, sexuality, family, death and humanity.

A key to understanding the history of Religions is to develop a typology that maps specific sets of analogically related affinities. It should avoid merely analytical and classificatory conceptualizations (e.g., imaginaire, mental representations) or selective intuitions that imply a scientific phenomenology of religion and which eventually become reductive and ethnocentric.

The most effective way of mapping such affinities is to apply a polythetic approach. For this, one employs the classical view that every instance of a concept accurately described will share a defining property that puts it in a certain category.

This is the view that Alston uses for his polythetic approach to analyzing religions. His basic parameters for the analysis are: i) that a threshold number of properties must be present in order for a member of this class to be considered a religion, and ii) that the properties are not all simultaneously or equally present.

Religious rituals, ceremonies, and other forms of spirituality can be a deeply intense experience. They can involve crying, laughing, screaming, trancelike conditions, a feeling of oneness with those around you, and other emotional and psychological states.