Régis Dericquebourg

Professor, Sociology of Religion

University of Lille III

Lille, France




     This consultation cannot give rise to a basic discussion on the definition of religion. We may nevertheless have an operational viewpoint and agree on a minimum number of characteristics found in most religions. We are aware that this view provisionally ignores the discussion on the definition of religion imposed by new forms of religion.

     With Bryan Wilson1 we can agree that a religion includes:

     * A cosmology in which the universe takes on a meaning regarding one or more supernatural forces. The conception of Man exceeds the boundaries of his terrestrial existence. There is a before and an after. The finite character of Man is not accepted.

     * A moral which stems from this cosmology. It supplies directives and guidelines in accordance with the suggested meaning of the universe.

     * Tools which put human beings in contact with the supernatural principle: prayer, religious ceremonies, techniques of meditation.

     * A community of followers, however small, which is capable of maintaining and reproducing the beliefs and of managing the benefits of salvation.

     The combination of these elements makes it possible to distinguish religions: (1) from deist philosophies, which provide a cosmology and a meaning for existence but which are not intended to link human beings with supernatural powers; (2) from individual magic, intended to obtain empirical results through the use of empirical techniques; (3) from deist organizations such as Free Masonry, which acknowledge the existence of the Grand Architect of the Universe but whose ceremonies are not directed to putting Man in relation with Him.


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