Beliefs in society Postmodernism


the development of ICT

The development of television, media and the internet has exposed people to different ideas, images and information from around the world.  People are aware of the different religious beliefs and practices in existence; they are no longer forced to accept one interpretation. 

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Buying goods and services has become increasingly central to people’s lives. Many believe that what we buy says who we are (for example, Nike trainers, Gucci sunglasses).  Certain NAM’s are very ‘trendy’, for example, when yoga became associated with Madonna.


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Mass travel and migration


People are increasingly exposed to different societies and different ways of life. Countries are becoming more multicultural and religious pluralism is widespread. 

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Risk and uncertainty


People’s lives are becoming increasingly insecure. Few people have a job for life. Divorce statistics suggest that relationships are more at risk. Global warming and pollution suggests that the future of the environment is uncertain.  For many people, religion is the only constant in their life.

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The decline of traditional religion

Modernity is associated with authoritative institutions which provide a metanarrative to believe in. According to Postmodernists, if we have lost our confidence in authoritative institutions, then we have lost confidence in religion because religion is one of these fundamental institutions. In the past, world religions were transmitted by scared texts and highly regarded religious authorities. These developed into a metanarrative (the grand explanation or big stories of modern society provided by science, religion and political ideas). 

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Responses to postmodern society: rise of fundament

Fundamentalism refers to movements within established religions which seek a return to the basic texts or beliefs – the fundamentals – of religion. Whilst a postmodern society may encourage the development of a variety of religious beliefs and NRM’s, other traditional ideas and beliefs may flourish as a counter response. In particular there has been a rise in fundamentalism in all of the major world religions. People look back to the past and believe that there was once a golden age of religion which they then seek to recreate again.

Holden (2002) believes that the growth of fundamentalist religious movements is due to the fact that such a religion can offer hope and direction in an uncertain world. 

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Responses to postmodern society: growth of NRMS

In a postmodern society, personal identity is increasingly constructed by individuals rather than being influenced by the groups to which they belong. Therefore, it follows that religious identity is shaped and defined by the individual. Postmodern societies encourage people to select religious beliefs and practices to suit their chosen identities. This relates well to the idea of consumerism. People can pick and choose religious beliefs and practices and if they find them rewarding, these can then be incorporated into an individual’s identity.


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Bauman (1992)

Bauman sees contemporary society as developing out of the key features of modernity.  He argues that there is an increased reflexivity in the contemporary world.  Bauman argues that in contemporary, society people no longer accept that others have authority over them, hence the reason why religion may be losing its authority and status.

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Heelas (1996)

Heelas argues that, in a number of ways, the New Age has characteristics associated with postmodernism. Like postmodern society, the New Age is de-traditionalised because it rejects the established traditions of conventional religions.  There are also strong links with consumer cultures, New Agers consume different practices from week to week.  The New Age also emphasise the importance of experience over achievement.

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  • Religion is taking a different, more privatised form.
  • Believing without belonging- people hold religious beliefs but don’t go to church.
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  • Religious beliefs are becoming a DIY cocktail.
  • Seasonal attenders- Christmas and Easter.
  • People are dipping into different beliefs and taking what most appeals to them, rejecting the beliefs when they no longer apply.
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The relativisation of truth

Bruce (2002)rejects the idea that in a postmodern society all truths carry equal weight. Not all the ways of viewing the world are equally as plausible. For example, most people would recognise surgery as the preferred “cure” rather than aura healing or crystals.

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Consumption and individualism


Bruce accepts the idea that greater wealth and consumer choice have allowed people to create “their own identities”. However, he criticises Postmodernism for not recognising the fact that consumers may be manipulated by advertising. He also maintains that they neglect to recognise the importance, not of individual identities, but of group identities. 

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Bruce rejects the idea that religious fundamentalism is a response to the changes caused by Postmodernism. He maintains that religious fundamentalism is nothing new and has been around for thousands of years. It is more likely to be a response to social, political and economic change.

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High modernity


Giddens argues that we haven’t moved into a postmodern era, but have entered into a new phase of high modernity and he sees this as a development of modernity.  He suggests that, while modernity involved rationalisation, high modernity takes this a step further and involves increased reflexivity.

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·According to Postmodernists, the metanarratives of modern society have been undermined in a postmodern society. Consequently, knowledge and beliefs are increasingly seen as relative. This has led to a decline in traditional religion which can no longer claim a monopoly of truth. 

·Some researchers have seen the rise of religious fundamentalism as response to this development. They see people “going back to basics” in an age of uncertainty.

·People are seen to increasingly construct their own identities in postmodern society – largely on the basis of what they consume. The growth of new religious movements (NRM’s) reflects this; people can select a mix of beliefs and practices to suit their desired identity.

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