The History of Religion

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If you’re interested in learning more about different religions, it’s important to remember that there’s often a serious basis behind what people believe – even when those beliefs are ridiculed as a joke in the West. So when examining a religion, start with some background reading and talk to scholars both inside and outside of that specific faith. This will give you multiple perspectives and prevent you from falling into a one-sided argument.

Throughout history, scholars have tended to approach religion from either monothetic or polythetic viewpoints. Monothetic approaches tend to be more concerned with finding a definition of religion. This may be accomplished through a lexical definition (what is commonly accepted as being religion) or by looking at a particular group of characteristics that all members share and then classifying them as religious.

Polythetic approaches are often based on psychoanalytic theory. For example, Erich Fromm modified Freudian theory by viewing religion as the result of a desire to be protected and loved. He also viewed it as a projection of a need for liberation from this world into the transcendental or heavenly sphere.

Durkheim’s functional view of religion, which defines it as whatever dominant concern serves to organize a person’s values, is a form of polythetics. Paul Tillich’s axiological view of religion is another.

Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology has had an impact on the study of religion, too. His philosophy is rooted in the idea that a person’s experiences are meaningful and, in fact, reveal timeless essences.