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Different Scholars' Definitions of Religion

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This essay will discuss and evaluate three scholarly definitions of religion. It will use a range of both primary and secondary sources to determine which is the best definition of religion. The essay will examine and assess the beliefs and theories of Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud.

The word ‘religion’ derives from the Latin words ‘religio’, ‘religere’ and ‘religare’. ‘Religare’ means to bind and ‘religere’ means to repeat which links into the works and theory of scholar number one, Emile Durkheim. Durkheim believed that religion was more down to a community of people rather than it being individual. In John Bawker’s Oxford Dictionary of World Religions he is quoted saying ‘A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.’ This quote suggests that not one person could be religious, and it must be a group of people with the same beliefs and practices to be religious, as he refers to it, a church.

It is important also to note that like Marx, Durkheim was raised as an atheist and not in a religious community, this could contribute to a different point of view compared to a religious scholar. Durkheim’s definition of religion is good as it explains large number of religious individuals around the world and explains why there are so many different and diverse religions around the world. However, there are many criticisms of Durkheim’s definition of religion, a key criticism that I have found is that Durkheim’s view focuses on religion and the community aspect, however his definition does not focus on those individuals who work against society and claim they are not religious. I feel that Durkheim’s definition is good but not as good as Marx’s who accounts for all religious believers not only those who work with society as Durkheim does. Marx’s definition of religion is like Durkheim’s in the sense that it is function of society, however Marx’s view is very different as it is negative saying it is ‘the opiate of the masses’.

However, scholars such as Raines disagree that it is negative, within his book ‘Marx on Religion’, he discusses the possibility that religion to Marx was a moral agency for the deprived of society’s class based system. It is also should be mentioned that Marx saw two classes of society, both the working classes (Proletarians) and the modern capitalists who exploit the working classes (Bourgeois). It was also society’s protest against suffering. It can be argued that Marx saw the function of religion in society, once again taking Raines’ argument, it helped the deprived lower classes of society protest against suffering, however Marx may not have agreed with the basis that in his view the higher, controlling classes were also using religion to ensure the workers knew their place in society. In my opinion, Marx’s definition of religion is good as it accounts for everyone in society however his definition and view is not as fluid or as dynamic as religion is.

Sigmund Freud is the final scholar which will be researched in this essay. Freud, famous of course for his controversial works in the field of psychology also attempted, just like many psychologists before him tried to define religion. Ernest Jones (1957) once wrote that Freud’s work had ‘evoked more controversy condemnation than any of his other works’. Freud believed religion to be a neurosis and once once compared it to one. There are several theories that Freud links with God or religion. One of these is known as the Oedipus Complex, a theory that incorporates a repressed rivalry for their father who also craves their mother’s attention. This links to religion as Freud argues that God can also be a Father figure amongst believers.

Another theory that incorporates religion is also the ‘Primal Horde Theory’ that when humans were still very primal and lived in horde’s, these hordes would often worship an animal (sometimes killed in ritual) or a totem. According to Freud this was the start of religion as eventually this ‘want’ for a father figure became too much and the totems became the Gods of modern day religions. Although Freud was brought up within a Jewish community he rejected all things religious and therefor his definition of religion was that it was a mental illness. I think Freud’s definition is a simplistic argument which is reductionist in its nature. To Freud religion was but one thing, worship of a God instead of all the other things it incorporates such as a community spirit and charity. I believe that Durkheim’s definition is better because it doesn’t involve reduced arguments and looks at a bigger religious picture, although Marx does look a religion from an economic point of view which makes sense.

To conclude, all the scholars in this essay have similar points of view as they all concern society and look at different sociological factors, for example Marx looks at economics, Durkheim looks at religion within the community and Marx looks at religion and the individual from a psychological perspective. It is my firm belief that out of all these scholars, Durkheim has the best definition of religion because it’s a definition that works for some cases and looks at the community aspect which arguably to some religious believers is the most important part. I believe that Marx also has a good point of view from when it comes to economics because it makes sense that the rich of the time would use a system of religion to be able to continue to exploitation of underpaid working to make themselves more powerful. Freud does have some compelling arguments when it comes to psychology however going back to Ernest Jones’ comment, his beliefs are so reductionist that it offends some believers as he doesn’t look at a bigger picture.

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Different Scholars’ Definitions of Religion. (2018, September 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 1, 2020, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/different-scholars-definitions-of-religion/
“Different Scholars’ Definitions of Religion.” GradesFixer, 27 Sept. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/different-scholars-definitions-of-religion/
Different Scholars’ Definitions of Religion. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/different-scholars-definitions-of-religion/> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2020].
Different Scholars’ Definitions of Religion [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Sept 27 [cited 2020 Dec 1]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/different-scholars-definitions-of-religion/
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