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Sociological definitions, language games, and the "essence" of religion

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Sociologists of religion have long debated the definition of religion. In this article, I survey the debate and find a partially hidden consensus. This debate, in conjunction with recent criticisms of the concept "religion" in religious studies, and by drawing on Ludwig Wittgenstein's notion oflanguage games, provides helpful pointers for developing a non-essentialist conception of religion. I argue that "religion" (as a phenomenon and as a concept) is a historical and social construction, but that this does not require us to dispense with the concept altogether.


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