Religious Studies is an academic discipline that studies the relationship between religion and society. Scholars of religion use many different methodologies and approaches to study the diverse religious traditions around the world. The American Academy of Religion is the world’s largest association of scholars who research and teach in this field.
One of the challenges of studying religion is that there are no obvious or simple criteria for what constitutes a religion. This makes constructing a definition of religion an ongoing project in social science. Most definitions of religion have been monothetic in nature, proposing a set of properties that must be present for something to be considered a religion. These properties, often rooted in theological ideas, are used to distinguish one religion from another.
Other definitions of religion have been polythetic in nature, recognizing that there are multiple dimensions to religion and thus allowing for a more inclusive approach. These definitions, often rooted in historical and sociological theory, allow for the possibility that a form of life that has a limited number of these characteristics may nevertheless be a religion.
Regardless of the methodological framework, there is broad consensus that a key element in any definition of religion must include a belief in some power higher than man and an attempt to propitiate or please this power. This is a defining feature of most religions, and it has been proposed that it is necessary for an understanding of religion as a sociological concept.