Why Can’t the New York Times’ Religion Columnist Define Religion?

Daniel McClellan writes about the difficulty of defining religion—always a bit of an embarrassment for a person with a degree in religious studies (not being able to say what exactly you study).

Daniel O. McClellan

Last week, The New York Times ran the column “When Some Turn to Church, Others go to CrossFit,” which discusses the tendentious way that attempts to define religion lean to more inclusiveness than intended. CrossFit is the example used in the article of a practice that is not usually called a “religion” but seems to meet the criteria of predominant definitions. Today The Week published an article by Damon Linker entitled “Why Can’t The New York Times‘ religion columnist define religion?” It basically insists that religion can accurately be defined and that The New York Times is being dumb. Here’s the money shot:

allow me to give this definition thing a shot: Religion is any set of norms, practices, and beliefs that establishes a comprehensive way of life that is held out as the right or best way of life for those who adhere to it.

Many…

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