According to Webster's Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary, "ideology" is "visionary theorizing." Alternatively, it is "a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture," or "a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture." Malcolm Hamilton, in his article "The Elements of the Concept of Ideology," offers a more scholarly formulation, writing that ideology is "a system of collectively held normative and reputedly factual ideas and beliefs and attitudes advocating and/or justifying a particular pattern of political and/or economic relationships, arrangements, and conduct." The historian Michael Hunt, meanwhile, views ideology in more specific terms as performing a particular function: it is "an interrelated set of convictions or assumptions that reduces the complexities of a particular slice of reality to easily comprehensible terms and suggests appropriate ways of dealing with that reality." These are just a few examples of scholars' many efforts to define ideology.
Expanding upon these three examples, however, we may construct a meaningful definition. It might read as follows: Ideology is a shared belief system that may serve at once to motivate and to justify. It generally asserts normative values and includes causative beliefs. How do things happen? What does it all mean? An ideology may be utopian and progressive or protective of the status quo. It offers a way in which to order the world, defining enemies and allies, dangers and opportunities, us and them. Ideologies are formal, structured, and involve their own particular logic, often appearing in the guise of science or objective knowledge. Ideology is implicated in collective action, as criticism, goad, explanation, or promise. It is represented in symbols and beliefs held by a community and is publicly expressed. Ideology is at once philosophy, science, religion, and imagination.