Artifacts and Supraphysical Worlds : A Conceptual Analysis of Religion

Johan Modée

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


It is a contested question in contemporary theories of religion whether the concept of religion can be defined in a sound way or not. Many theorists maintain that a universal but delimiting definition is impossible. In this study, by contrast, it is argued that a conceptual analysis of religion that holds universally is perfectly possible because the following thesis can be seen as a necessary and sufficient conceptual condition of what religion is:

(R) X is a religion if and only if X is a collection of artifacts which has the proper function of representing a supraphysical world.

On this thesis, it is argued that artifacts such as pictorial and verbal representations, rituals, symbols, and various tools constitute religion as a cultural object, which, as a collection of artifacts, has the proper function of representing a conceived world that is not entirely physical, and which, allegedly, is a prerequisite for existential welfare in relation to observance.

It is here important to understand what is constitutive for these kinds of conceived worlds. Supraphysical world is defined as follows. Given that the actual world is a physical world, a conception S is a construction of a supraphysical world if and only if both of the following conditions apply to S:

(1) Metaphysical component: S is a duplicate of the actual world with the addition of an anti-physical substance.

(2) Existential-normative component: S is an alleged prerequisite for existential welfare in relation to observance.

The core argument of the study is that (R) holds a priori for the concept of religion and as an a posteriori necessity for every instance of a religion.

Apart from discussing the methodological problems of defining religion, the study introduces a new theory of religion in terms of (R). It addresses issues in the theory of artifacts; in the theory of representations; and in the theory of conceptual analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Centre for Theology and Religious Studies
  • Stenqvist, Catharina, Supervisor
  • Sahlin, Nils-Eric, Supervisor
Award date2005 Oct 29
Print ISBNs91-628-6610-9
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2005-10-29
Time: 10:15
Place: Spoletorps hörsal, International Graduate Student House, Spolegatan 1 R

External reviewer(s)

Name: Knuuttila, Simo
Title: Professor
Affiliation: University of Helsinki


The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015.
The record was previously connected to the following departments: Philosophy of Religion (015017073)

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Religious Studies


  • Philosophy of special sciences
  • Two-dimensionality
  • Supraphysical worlds
  • Possible worlds
  • Global supervenience
  • Physicalism
  • Tools
  • Symbols
  • Rituals
  • Representations
  • Proper funtion
  • Artifacts
  • Definition of religion
  • Conceptual analysis
  • Särskilda vetenskapers filosofi


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