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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

where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
learn
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
learn
Google
da
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Bhagvanji
hey
Giriraj
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
revolt
da
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
Damian
yes that's correct
Professor
I think
Professor
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
Alexandre
nanocopper obvius
Alexandre
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
Rafiq
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
Damian
How we are making nano material?
LITNING Reply
what is a peer
LITNING Reply
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
LITNING Reply
What is STMs full form?
LITNING
scanning tunneling microscope
Sahil
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Santosh
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
Mahi
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
Rafiq
if virus is killing to make ARTIFICIAL DNA OF GRAPHENE FOR KILLED THE VIRUS .THIS IS OUR ASSUMPTION
Anam
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Anam
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
Hafiz
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
Bob
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
brayan
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
Damian
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
Renato
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
?
Kyle
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
Adin
why?
Adin
what school?
Kyle
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
Joe
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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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