Religions are sources of faith and meaning for human beings, they provide the foundation for a moral order and encourage values like love, compassion, humanity, purity and the pursuit of goodness. Moreover, many religious beliefs and practices address social problems including drug addiction, family dissolution, crime and delinquency, and poverty by providing unique solutions like church-run rehab programs and community outreach efforts to help people in need.
The debate over the definition of Religion spans several disciplines including anthropology, history, sociology, philosophy, psychology and religious studies as well as more recently cognitive science. Each discipline has contributed its own distinctive perspective to the discussion but all perspectives share a common concern about how best to categorize religious phenomena and develop explanatory theories for their origins.
There is a strong tendency in the academic study of Religion to move away from monothetic and towards polythetic approaches to the definition. Polythetic definitions are based on the notion that a social category may be defined as whatever is central to a group’s identity and valuations (beliefs, values, and commitments) and is reflected in a shared structure or culture.
One of the problems with polythetic approaches to the definition of Religion is that they tend to rely on prototypes, more or less the things that come to mind when people hear the word Religion. This is a significant limitation and is reminiscent of the problem that faced earlier definitions of art, notably that of art as anything that has been made by humans.