A Scientific Definition of Religion

James W. Dow
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Religion is a collection of behavior that is only unified in our Western conception of it. It need not have a natural unity. There is no reason to assume, and good reason not to assume, that all religious behavior evolved together at the same time in response to a single shift in the environment. This article does not look at the religion as a uni- fied entity and seek a definition of its essence. Instead, it looks at what science needs to know in order to discover how and why religion came into existence as a human behavior. What does science need to know about religion, or how should religion be defined so that science can look at it? A definition that refers to observable behavior is required. Then, a preliminary hypothesis to orient observations is proposed. I suggest a preliminary hypothesis consisting of three stages in the evolution of religion:
(1) a cognizer of unobservable agents, (2) a sacred category classifier, and (3) a moti- vator for public sacrifice. Each one of these stages is a nucleus of modern anthropo-logical theorizing. Although they all come together in the Western folk concept of religion, this article proposes that they are independent evolutionary complexes that should not be lumped together, but should be investigated as separate types of religious behavior.