Representation theory is a branch of mathematics that studies abstract algebra|abstract algebraic structures by representing their element (set theory)|elements as linear transformations of vector spaces, and studiesModule (mathematics)|modules over these abstract algebraic structures. In essence, a representation makes an abstract algebraic object more concrete by describing its elements by matrix (mathematics)|matrices and the algebraic operations in terms of matrix addition and matrix multiplication. The algebraic objects amenable to such a description include group (mathematics)|groups, associative algebras and Lie algebras. The most prominent of these (and historically the first) is the group representation|representation theory of groups, in which elements of a group are represented by invertible matrices in such a way that the group operation is matrix multiplication.
Representation theory is a powerful tool because it reduces problems in abstract algebra to problems in linear algebra, a subject that is well understood. Furthermore, the vector space on which a group (for example) is represented can be infinite dimensional, and by allowing it to be, for instance, a Hilbert space, methods of mathematical analysis|analysis can be applied to the theory of groups. Representation theory is also important in physics because, for example, it describes how the symmetry group of a physical system affects the solutions of equations describing that system.
A striking feature of representation theory is its pervasiveness in mathematics. There are two sides to this. First, the applications of representation theory are diverse: in addition to its impact on algebra, representation theory illuminates and vastly generalizes Fourier analysis via harmonic analysis, is deeply connected to geometry via invariant theory and the Erlangen program, and has a profound impact in number theory via automorphic forms and the Langlands program. The second aspect is the diversity of approaches to representation theory. The same objects can be studied using methods from algebraic geometry, module theory, analytic number theory, differential geometry, operator theory, algebraic combinatorics and topology.
The success of representation theory has led to numerous generalizations. One of the most general is a category theory|categorical one. The algebraic objects to which representation theory applies can be viewed as particular kinds of categories, and the representations as functors from the object category to the category of vector spaces. This description points to two obvious generalizations: first, the algebraic objects can be replaced by more general categories; second the target category of vector spaces can be replaced by other well-understood categories.

Representation theory is a branch of mathematics that studies abstract algebra|abstract algebraic structures by representing their element (set theory)|elements as linear transformations of vector spaces, and studiesModule (mathematics)|modules over these abstract algebraic structures. In essence, a representation makes an abstract algebraic object more concrete by describing its elements by matrix (mathematics)|matrices and the algebraic operations in terms of matrix addition and matrix multiplication. The algebraic objects amenable to such a description include group (mathematics)|groups, associative algebras and Lie algebras. The most prominent of these (and historically the first) is the group representation|representation theory of groups, in which elements of a group are represented by invertible matrices in such a way that the group operation is matrix multiplication.
Representation theory is a powerful tool because it reduces problems in abstract algebra to problems in linear...