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The great value of a narrow definition is that you can be very specific: certain things are in, and other things are out. The value of a wide definition is that cover such a wide spectrum.

If you use a narrow definition, then something like football would certainly not count as religion. If you use a wide definition, it could! Just look at the ritual dress that some fans wear to football matches, the ritual surrounding it, and so on.

Of course even a wide definition would have to draw the line somewhere. Somewhere there will be a cut–off point. Remember: the great virtue of definitions is that they help us to think and speak clearly and consistently. So every useful definition, regardless of how narrow or wide, will have its clear boundaries.

In the subject Religion Studies a rather wide definition of religion is usually better than a very narrow one. To use a simile: for our purposes it is better to fish with a net that could capture a large number of fish, rather than with a line and bait that would catch only one fish.

Substantive and functional definitions

A substantive definition says what religion is . This kind of definition says: there is a thing out there, and the word "religion" refers to that thing. The implication is that your definition is right or wrong. The thing itself will tell whether your definition is good or bad. Just find the thing, and measure your definition against it.

A functional definition says what the word religion can do for us. This kind of definition says: there are lots of things in life that somehow seem to be related; our definition is a search instrument, a magnet. We move it over life and we pick up hosts of fascinating material that provide us with deeper insight into humanity.

Here there are not really "right" or "wrong" definitions, rather "more useful" and "less useful" ones. Of course not anything would go. Not any old definition would be as good as any other one. Here, definitions must have clear boundaries and must be clear and consistent.

For example, if your definition includes both of the following statements at the same time, it is quite useless: "religion is always expressed in ritual" and "religion is not always expressed in ritual". Time to go back to the drawing board! Note another distinction between the two kinds of definition: substantive definitions tend to say that they come after the facts of religion. Religion exists before we try to define it.

Functional definitions say that we must first have an initial idea of the word "religion" before we will be able to pick up the facts of religion – you must first know what you are looking for before you can find anything. Functional definitions evolve over time.

Let us not overplay the distinction here. Any reasonable person would admit that we need both: real life out there, and our definitions, and that they are dependent on each other. Definitions do not define things into existence; neither do they just describe things.

To return to the grid at the beginning of the module: you need both the vertical and the horizontal strands to do good work. When you have a solid, good instrument (i.e. a definition) you will be able to relate the various religions and religious phenomena; and it is only when you have learnt a great deal about various religions that your definition will become a powerful instrument, capable of yielding a great deal of meaning.

Normative and descriptive definitions

The word normative " comes from "norm", which means the same as "standard". So this kind of definition has a built–in tendency to distinguish between good or bad religion. Only "good" religion (usually: the kind of religion that I/we agree with) counts as real religion; the rest is inferior nonsense, not really deserving to be called "religion" at all.

This kind of definition does not necessarily coincide with narrow definitions, but sometimes it does. For example: it could happen that the definition religion is belief in God is implying that Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism (which do not rest on the belief in God) are inferior, and should therefore be discounted as far as "real" religion is concerned.

A descriptive definition realises how easily bias can creep into our work, and tries to eliminate it as far as possible. It wants to maintain a scholarly stance. Whatever meets the criteria laid down in the definition that we use, will be counted as religion – whether one personally likes that phenomenon or not.

Note that in Religion Studies normative definitions are to be avoided. We want to understand religion, not judge it from a religious point of view.

Denotative and connotative definitions

These terms come from the verbs "to denote" and "to connote". To denote means to give the most basic, primary meaning of a word. To connote means to mention the attributes that are usually associated with it.

Let us take the word "father" as an example. This word denotes a male who has begotten a child – that is its simplest, most basic definition. It connotes male sex, older age, existence before, physical strentgth, authority, affection, support, upbringing, financial security and so on.

Again, it is unnecessary to say that one is right and one is wrong. It depends on the context in which one wants to use a definition. Sometimes one type is better, sometimes the other.

A denotative definition has the advantage that it may communicate directly what the essence of something is. But, if it is too short or does not fit the context, it may run the risk of being witty but not really saying anything at all. The world of literature abounds with pithy nut–shell, one–line (or less) definitions of things, but they sometimes arouse the emotions rather than feed the intellect. Sometimes they may be quick and effective, but may also be a stark oversimplification of things.

A connotative definition on the other hand has the value of covering more aspects, but if it becomes too long and complex, it may also lose its value. The trick is to know what kind of definition fits the needs of a certain situation better. It comes with experience.

Questions & Answers

what are cluster A disease?
Saee Reply
because psychology is a natural science as well as a science. it's a interdisciplinary subject
Kamakshi Reply
yes absolutely we cabt out Psychology completely into science dur to its various measuring aspects
utkarsh
cannot* put*
utkarsh
Assess the relationship between heredity and environment in human development
Newman Reply
जिवन कक्षा विकासाच्या एकूण किती अवस्था आहेत
Digambar Reply
what happened Digambar?
sakshi
?
Reina
Is here anybody exactly awared about the medicine used for the schizophrenia?
Fazil
plz can i know if io psychology in demand ou it's better to continu in human resourses management?
Reina
there are many drugs used to alleviate the symptoms, but none are used for curing the disorder itself.
Rupert
Researchers believe that one important function of sleep is to facilitate learning and memory. How does knowing this help you in your college studies? What changes could you make to your study and sleep habits to maximize your mastery of the material covered in class?
whitecat Reply
Well, for starters, both are entirely different aspect for consideration. As a college student, having an adequate amount of sleep is relatively rare especially on instances where we are totally forced to stay all night (whether for studying or doing academic works).
Rupert
benefits of physcology
Irfan Reply
who define first physcology
Irfan
who define first physcology
Irfan
I think it was either Henry James Or William James are the father of psychology.
James
I haven't read the flash cards and memorized them sense 2015.
James
so iv forgotten some info and some has never left me . I'm very passionate about psychology.
James
I study medical psychology
John
the history of psychology usually traces back to ancient chinese practices. but modern times acknowledge Wilhelm Wundt as the first person to establish a school.of thought in psychology.
Rupert
huh
ANGELICA
is it wrong?
Rupert
please can i know what is the difference about io psychology and human resources managment and which is more in demand ?
Reina Reply
What is psychology
Tayyeba Reply
someone who can observe or understand a person's reactions.
Leanne
It is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes
Enos
Sarah is a 30 year old white female. Her occupation is part time chef. She is recently been divorced and has custody of her three children. She has extreme changes in her mood that began to appear in her 20’s but she never went to see a doctor about them. When family tries to talk to her about her u
Ere Reply
listen very carefully for red flags on both sides
Leanne
what does historical racism mean
Unasumming Reply
Means that racism was present in a group of peoples race in there past and maybe even now. Example is the Native Americans and African Americans also Asian people. Anyone of not caucasian resent. So people who are mixed races also experience rascism.
James
racism meaning I would believe is a negative impact on other separate cultures, causing some serious concerns to the human race.
Leanne
How do counsel someone that is kinda depressed, lonely and stuffs but the person is pushing you away with by saying stuffs you don't like? Your age mate
Ajayi Reply
let them figure themselves out met them come to you and listen more than speak
Jascelyn
don't take anything too personal someone who is depressed has more feelings other than being sad. I have been through it we dont alwaya mean the things we say. just give time and space but be there when they are ready.
Deanna
the person should be first dealt with very patience and understanding.......... person's trust should be won first to treat that kind of state if counsel is the priority..... don't rush small steps will lead to get successful results....... after the patient start trusting you conversate with them.
Amisha
OK..... Thank you very much It makes me look desperate for the person's attention Thanks tho
Ajayi
just let them know even if they aren't ready to tall right now, you will be here for them whenever they are.
Deanna
we need to wait till the stage comes when he/ she is ready at mental level to participate as he is the subject and the core of the part of that particular conscelling session
aaqib
A.Are they saying it in general manner or B.they are saying it cz they know something about you personally If it is A. then remember it's a part of counseling...even if you don't agree with their views..it is theirs.. so don't take it personally
PREETI
if it is B. tell them .. we are here to talk about them not you Also remember people takes time with things.. so it does get difficult at times.. but in counseling it's about them not you. And if it affecting you much .. see why is there .. and try to objective about it OR refer them to someone
PREETI
allow them time to always become comfortable by listening to all sorts of thoughts they all sound scattered but if you ,just let it go until their ready to ask for advice ,my thoughts of counciling would go for a few more sessions of them venting until they've had enough to feel they want geedback
Leanne
what is the trait in the given example?
Maya Reply
what's the given example?
SamieMike
my fat cock
Andrea
o.o u seem like u need to read this txt
SamieMike
learning to understand psychological effects of one's mind thoughts
Leanne
mental state and behavior
Mufakir Reply
Feared ,lethargic, self isolated...
Leanne
because psychology basic is observation asa well as science, so people might skeptical about these two but if we look into it people might notice that it's different because psychology is study about mind and science is study about many thing around us and it's not study about mind clearly.
Karona Reply
empirical method is the method of observation on object rather than do experiment .
Karona
ology is the study of theory .
Karona
psyche means soul as well as butterfly.
Karona
psychology is the the study of mind and behavior
Karona
this is where I'm a little sceptical. we learning psychology based on books. but we ourselves r also human. when we to encounter a real life situation how well can we act accordingly
Aileen
im curious more of myself then others
Aileen
psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior. scientific mean it's based on observation and experiments. yeah we can observe behavior easily but can't read mind directly that's why we do observe behavior and apply test and therapies to study mind basically we behave according to our mind
Faiza
educates a humans thoughts to expand and explore more of how far a mind will go if allowed
Leanne
wilhelm wundt studied psychology for the purpose of
Rufai Reply
i dont know, all inknow is that he pioneered the practice of introspective and his school of thought aims to study behavior as structured elements
Rupert
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Source:  OpenStax, Learning about religion. OpenStax CNX. Apr 18, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11780/1.1
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