World accommodating definition
Religion provides an ordering system for societies, centred on a fundamental distinction between the sacred and the profane.
Weber argued that whilst Eastern religions promote values that do not sit easily with capitalist economics, Protestant and particularly Calvinist beliefs and values fit well with the drive and investment patterns that enable capitalism’s development.
However, Marx also saw that religions can be a ‘haven in a heartless world’, thus providing some comfort to the poor and relatively powerless.
Durkheim studied the phenomenon of religion in some detail, especially within small-scale societies.
Studies of individual religious practice – everyday ‘lived religion’ – show that, in the pursuit of generic definitions and theories of religion, sociology may have largely ignored the creative blending of ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ elements by individuals trying to make sense of their place in the world.
Bellah’s notion of ‘privatized’ religion suggests a long-term movement away from a unified, public form of religion, which helped to bind people together, towards diverse and private forms of religion.
However, the attempt to produce a single definition to encompass all known religions relies on a very broad concept of the ‘super-empirical’, which is less applicable to new religious movements as well as to some Eastern religions.