Topic 4: Religion, renewal and choice

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New forms of religion

Some sociologists reject the idea of secularisation theories that religion is undergoing an inevitable decline in modern western society. They argue that rather than religion is declining they look at how new forms of religion are emerging, often as a result of changes in wider society such as greater individualism, choice and consumerism.

From obligation to consumption

  • In England and France, infant baptism was seen as a obligatory rite of passage but now only a minority of babies are baptised. People now have individual choice to either get baptisied or not. As in contrast, there has been an increase in number of adult making the individual choice to be baptised.
  • Davie says that religion is no longer inherited or imposed, but a matter of personal choice.
  • Believing without belonging, suggested by Davie means people are now reluctant to belong to organisation but still believe in their religious beliefs.This means that religion is not declining but its becoming more of a privatised form.
  • Vicarious religion means religion practised by an active minority on behalf of the great majority, who experience religion second hand.
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New forms of religion

  • According to Davie, major national churches are like the NHS because national churches are seen as public utilities like the NHS which everyone uses whenever they need to.
  • He also argues that NHS is like a spiritual health science which is used for baptisms, weddings and funerals.
  • The term 'multiple modernities' according to Davie means that each society, communities are different for example, Britain and America are both modern societies, relation to church attendance its high in USA but low in the UK.
  • Voas and Crockett dispute Davie's claim about believing without belonging as evidence from 5,750 respondents shows that both church attendance and belief in God are declining all together. If Davie was right, we should expect to see high levels of belief.
  • Bruce criticises Davie's believing without belonging as he says that if people are not willing to invest time in going to church, this just reflects the declining strength of their beliefs.
  • According to Day, some people identify themselves as Christian because its a way of saying they belong to a 'white english' ethnic group. Day puts it as 'believe in belonging' describing themselves as Christian is non-religious marker of their ethnic or national identity
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New forms of religion

Spirtual shopping

  • Cultural amnesia is when children use to be taught religion but now they don't as parents don't teach their religion anymore.
  • According to Hervieu-Leger, argued that the trend of equality impacted religion because it undermines the traditional power of the church.
  • People have become spiritual shoppers because people today now feel they have a choice as consumers of religion.
  •  What Hervieu-Leger means by pilgrims is a following an individual path in a search of self-discovering and converts is joining religious groups that offer strong sense of belonging, based on a shared ethnic background.
  • Hervieu-Leger, according to him he believes religion still has a influence on society values because the values of equality and human rights have their roots in religion.
  • Hervieu-Leger links his views to late modernity as the notion that in recent decades some of the trends within modern society have began to accelerate, such as tradition and increasing individualism.
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New forms of religion

Postmodern Religion

  • According to Lyon, there are 4 features of postmodern society which are: globalisation, consumerism, media and communication and the growth of consumerism.
  • Globalisation refers to the growing interconnectedness of societies, which has led to greatly increased movements of ideas and beliefs across all national boundaries.
  • Religious ideas have become disembedded because the media lift them out of physical churches and move them to a different time and place. For example, real churches have been moved onto the Internet such as electronic churches allowing believers to express their faith without physically attending church.
  • Religion has become de-institutionalised which means its become detached from its place in religious institutions, floating in cyber space.
  • Religion online refers to top-down communication where religious organisations uses the internet to address members and potential converts.
  • Online religion is form a communication that allows believers to create a non-hierarchal relationships and a sense of community where they can visit virtual worship or meditation spaces.
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New forms of religion

Postmodern Religion

  • Postmodernists may see online religion as a alternative way of replacing religion.
  • Postmodern society involves the growth of consumerism, the idea that we not contruct our identities through what we choose to consume.
  • Lyon says that religion has relocated to the 'sphere of consumption' this means that while people may not want to belong to a religious organisation, they have not abandoned religion. Instead they have become more 'religious consumers' making choices about which elements of religion they find useful.
  • E.G. American Christian fundamentalists in Nancy Ammerman's study made use of a number of churches without giving strong loyalty to any of them as they used different churches for different uses such as day care for their children.
  • The range of religious products weakens traditional religion is because exposure to many competing versions of the truth makes people spectical that any of them is really or true.
  • New Age spirituality differ from traditional religions because they reject the idea of obligation and obedience to external authority found in traditional religions.
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New forms of religion

Postmodern religion

  • New Age beliefs and practises have been called 'self-spirituality' because the notion that every individual is free to decide what is true for him and her.
  • According to Lyon, the decline of traditional religious views not mean the end of religion because we are now in a period of re-enchantment (pleasure) with the growth of unconventional beliefs, practises and spirituality.
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New forms of religion

A spiritual revolution?

  • Spiritual revolution means traditional christianity is giving way to 'holistic spirituality' or New Age spiritual beliefs and practises that emphasise personal development and subjective experience.
  • There are products available in the spiritual market such as books, consultations, courses and therapies.
  • There are three explanations for the trend in worship in the Kendal study which are: a shift away from the idea of doing your duty and obeying external authority to exploring your inner self by following a spiritual path / as a result traditional religion which demand duty and obedience are declining / Evangelical churches are more successful than traditional churches because emphasise the importance of spiritual healing and personal growth through the experience of being 'born again' although both demand discipline and duty.
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New forms of religion

The weakness of the New Age

  • Bruce criticises the view that the New Age (NA) beliefs show that religion is changing rather than declining:
    • The problem of scale - even if NA forms of individualised religion are springing up, this would have to be on a much larger scale if it is to fill the gap left by the decline of traditional religions.
    • Socialisation of the next generation - for a belief system to survice, it must be passed down to the next generation. Kendal found that only 32% of parents who were in the NA said their children shared their spiritual interests. Yet to maintain the same number of believers in the next generation, a typical couple with 2 children have to socialise both of them into the NA beliefs and views. Women in the holistic milieu are more likely to be childless, and most husbands don't share the same beliefs as the wife in the HM which reduces the likelihood of transmitting them to their children.
    • Weak commitment - serious commitment to NA beliefs and practises were very rare even those who classed themselves as spirtual.
    • Structural weakness - NA spirituality is itself a cause of secularisation because its
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New forms of religion

The weakness of the New Age

... subjective, individualistic nature - it is based on the idea that there is no higher authority than the self. This means that, unlike traditional religions, the NA:

  • lacks external power to extract commitment from NA participants against their wishes.
  • cannot achieve consensus about its belief because everyone is free to believe whatever they wish, so it lacks cohesion as a movement
  • cannot evangelise (persuade others of the truth) because that enlightment comes from within, not from someone else
  • These characteristics make the NA weak and unlikely to fill the gap left by the decline of traditional religion.
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Religious market theory

  • Stark and Bainbridge see secularisation theory as Eurocentric because it focuses in the decline of religion in Europe and fails to explain its continuing vitality in America and elsewhere.
  • Religious market theory is based on two assumptions: people are naturally religious and religion meets human needs / it is human nature to seek rewards and avoid costs.
  • According to Stark and Bainbridge  religion is attractive because provides us with compensators as real rewards may be unobtainable or scarce however religion compensates by promising supernatural ones like afterlife.
  • Cycle of renewal is an alternative to secularisation theory which sees a one-way process of continuous decline. The concept of cycle of religious decline revival and renewal, they describe perpetual (everlasting) cycle throughout history, with some religions declining and other growing and attracting new members. E.G. established churches decline they leave a gap in the market for sects and cults to attract new followers - this shows that secularisation is one-sided as it only sees decline but ignores the growth of new religions.
  • Religious competition - churches operates like companies selling good, in a market however the impact of this on religions is that competition between religions causes...
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Religious market theory

...uncertainty and undermines religions. Relgious market theorists argue that competition leads to improvements in the quality of the religious goods. Churches that make their products attractive will succeed in attracting more customers. However, the churches that do not respond to their members needs will decline.

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Religious market theory

America vs Europe

  • The demand of religion increases when there is more sorts to choose from
  • Stark and Bainbridge suggest the effect of religious monoply (one church with no competition) is that it leads to the decline of religion because the churches have no incentive to provide people with what they want
  • Religion thrives in the USA because there has never been a religious monoply there. In the USA there is more freedom of religion, and there is a variety of denominations to choose from. This has encouraged the growth of a healthy religious market where religions grow or decline according to consumer demand.
  • In Europe, its different as we are dominated by the official state church which had religious monoply, such as the Church of England. The lack of choice has led to decline.
  • The supply of religion is more important than the demand because participation increases when there is an ample supply of religious groups to choose from but declines when supply is restricted.
  • Decline of religion is not a universal trend as some secularisation theories suggest.
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Religious market theory

Supply-led religion

  • According to Hadden and Shupe, the impact of televangelism in American TV shows has opened up competition in which evangelised churches have thrived.
  • Televangelism responded to consumer demand by preaching a prosperity gospel.
  • According to Finke, the impact of immigration on American religion is that asian faiths becomes another option that proved popular with consumers in the religious marketplace.
  • Japan is another society where a free market in religion has stimulated participation. After world war two, religion was de-regulated, creating a market in which new religions such as Soka Gakkai have thrived whereas before the only religion which was allowed was Shintoism.
  • This is different in Germany after the war where religion was closely regulated by the state and now it has declined.
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Religious market theory

Evaluation

  • Bruce argues that Stark and Bainbridge misinterpret secularisation theory. The theory does not claim there was a past 'golden age' of religion or everyone will become atheists. It simply claims that religion is in long-term decline. Nor does it claim to be universal as it only applies to Europe and USA.
  • Bruce rejects the view that diversity and competition increases the demand of religion. Statistics show that diverisity has been accompanied by religious decline in both Europe and USA.
  • High levels of religious participation exists in Catholic countires where the Church has near monoply such as Ireland and Venezuela. This undermines Stark and Bainbridges theory.
  • Beckford argues that religious market theory is unsociological because it assumes people are 'naturally' religious and fails to explain why they make the choices they do.
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An alternative view: secularisation and security

  • Norris and Inglehart reject religious market theory because it only applies to America and European contries and fails to explain the variations in religiousity between different societies.
  • Norris and Inglehard agree that reasons of variations in religiousity between different societies is because of religious choice, but different degrees of existential security.
  • Existential security means the feeling that survival is secure enough that it can be taken for granted
  • Religion meets the need for security, thus societies where people already feel secure have a low level of demand for religion
  • They argue that poor societies where people face life threatening risks such as disease and environmental disasters will have high levels on insecurity therefore high level of demands for religion
  • They also argue that rich societies where people have high standards of living and are at less risk, have a greater sense of security and thus lower levels of religiousity
  • Global population growth undermines the trend of secularisaton because rich, secure secular western countries have low levels of population growth thus becoming more of a secular society
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An alternative view: secularisation and security

  • According to Norris and Inglehart, America is more religious than Europe because America is also the most unequal of the rich societies, with an inadequate welfare safety-net and individualistic values. This creates high levels of poverty and insecurity, which creates a greater need for religion
  • They point out that even though America is more religious than Europe, it is still less religious than poorer countries
  • Gill and Lundegaarde's findings support Norris and Inglehart's theory as they found that the more a country spends on welfare, the lower the level of religious participation
  • Thus European countires, which spend more than the USA, are also more secular than the USA
  • Gill and Lundegaarde do not expect religion to disappear completely, because although welfare provision meets the need for security, it does not answer the ultimate questions about the meaning of life, which religion provides
  • Thus the availablity of welfare reduces the need for religion, it does not eliminate that need completely
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An alternative view: secularisation and security

The case of Uruguay

  • study conducted by Gill and Lundegaarde
  • Uruguay is a small Latin American country
  • it has religious diveristy but low levels of religious participation
  • this goes against Stark and Bainbridge's theory that a free market in religion stimulates participation
  • the welfare provision in this country is more generous than other countries around it which suggests there more security therefore don't need religion for guidence and hope
  • this supports the existential security theory
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An alternative view: secularisation and security

Evaluation

  • only makes quantative data about income levels; they don't examine people's own definition of 'existential security' Qualitative data is also need argued by Vasquez
  • Religion as a negative response to deprivation, it ignores positive reasons people have for religious participation and the appeal that some types of religion have for the wealthy
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