Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


Attempts to define religion have usually discussed the inclusion/exclusion of marginal phenomena. Examples commonly include a sport or the stars of entertainment (baseball or Elvis Presley in the United States, football or the monarchy in the United Kingdom) and various political and/or philosophical systems, such as the "isms" (communism following World War II, then nationalism), and an atheistic or nontheistic system that is already generally recognized as religious (Hinayana or Southern Buddhism). Such examples tend to be grouped together as "surrogate religions," "quasi-religions," "pseudo-religions"— or, rather more circumspectly, as "functional alternatives to religion."

Contrary, perhaps, to expectation, social scientists, on the one hand, and historians or phenomenologists of religion, on the other hand, do not neatly divide, by profession, into inclusivists and exclusivists. Social scientists sometimes fear "calling everything religious, since 'religious' would then be meaningless," and historians of religion sometimes speak of "false religions." However, "straw opponents" do not advance any discussion. The inclusivist suggests "any" -thing "may" be (not, "every" -thing "is") religious, and the exclusivist insists on the necessity of recognizing the irreducibility of the sacred—to recognize the depths that are experienced within reality, both religious and secular.

Edward I. Bailey


U. Bianchi, The History of Religions (Leiden: Brill, 1975)

M. L. Bringle, The God of Thinness (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992)

S. Brown, Secular Alternatives to Religion (Milton Keynes, U.K.: Open University Press, 1978)

J. E. Smith, Quasi-Religions (New York: St Martin's, 1994)

J. M. Yinger, The Scientific Study of Religion (New York, Macmillan, 1970).

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