Several scholars have recently argued that the concept of “religion” is manufactured, constructed, invented, or imagined, but does not correspond to an objective reality, “out there” in the world. This paper seeks to evaluate that critique. I argue that the critique is composed of three levels or threads: that “religion” is a social construction, that the term distorts one's perceptions of the reality it seeks to name, and that it is ideologically poisonous. Granting the partial truth of these three arguments, the paper agrees with the critics that a naive realism about religion is indefensible. However, some of the critics draw the conclusion that “there is no such thing as religion” or “there are no religions,” but I reject this conclusion. I seek, instead, to develop a critical realist view of the concept of religion that is able both to take into account the history of the semantics of the concept and, nevertheless, to see the study of religion as the study of patterns of behavior which are independent of the scholar.

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