1 Απριλίου 2016

I) Secularism, Myth, and History, II) Secularisation: New Historical Perspectives, and Bonus: Take Japan.

[By] the twenty-first century, religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture.
Peter Berger, sociologist, The New York Times, 1968

The assumption that we live in a secularised world is false: The world today, with some exceptions…is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever. This means that a whole body of literature by historians and social scientists loosely labeled ‘secularization theory’ is essentially mistaken.
Peter Berger, The Desecularization of the World, 1999


I
Secularism, Myth, and History

It is not going too far to suggest that the modem secularist worldview is built on a certain narrative of historical development that can be described as a kind of myth. As Robert Bellah argued several decades ago, the science-is-replacing-religion narrative embedded in secularisation theory "can almost be called a myth because it functions to create an emotionally coherent picture of reality. It is in this sense religious, not scientific at all. This theory or myth is that of the Enlightenment, which views science as the bringer of light relative to which religion and other dark things will vanish away." Moreover, a basic paradox of the modern secularist myth is the belief that the age of science and reason has banished myth to the dim past. But, as Karen Armstrong has observed, it is only in the modem age that myth and reason (mythos versus logos) have come to be understood as binary opposites. The reason that the secularist myth has retained much of its power until recent times is because it believes itself to be beyond myth. The same epistemological presuppositions underlying the myth/reason binary have also given shape to the religious/secular dichotomy of the modern Western imaginary. In questioning these presuppositions, this paper will suggest that the modern secular standpoint arose from a series of very particular and ultimately contingent intellectual and social developments.

As I will argue in the final section, one of the legacies (for good or ill) of secularisation was the rise of intellectual specialisation. In turn, this led to the understanding that history, both as a form of human understanding as well as all that has happened in the past, is concerned with contingency rather than necessity. It was only as the academic study of history loosened its ties with the Christian worldview through the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries that it discarded its teleological baggage. Moreover, it was theologians and church historians who first grappled with the implications of these developments, at the same time as Weber and his heirs were establishing the orthodoxy of inevitable secularisation. Only now is the supersessionist gloss of the secularist worldview starting to fade as the implications of this non-teleological understanding of history start to catch up with it.
Ian Tregenza
Secularism, Myth, and History


II
Secularisation: New Historical Perspectives

...recent decades have seen an explosive return of the old battle between secularists and religious proponents on a global scale with a widespread acknowledgement that the secularist grand narrative of the inevitable decline of religion as a product of modernity can no longer be assumed to be universally valid. While static in some parts of Europe and the United States, Christianity, far from fading away, appears to be achieving new visibility in regions such as the former Soviet Union and newly capitalist People’s Republic of China. Other world religions are experiencing similar revivals. Secularist regimes in the Middle East have been brought down in Islamist popular uprisings, radical Hinduism and Judaism are on the rise in nominally secularist India and Israel, and there is an alarming resurgence of a phenomenon which most western democracies had thought was gone for ever, namely religious terrorism. Secularism itself, no longer defined in rhetorical opposition to confessional Christianity, has emerged as a field in its own right with its own journals, websites, and conferences, covering a wide spectrum of non-religious belief and ethical systems. The lively Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network, founded in 2008, aims to cover: “the atheistic, agnostic, religiously indifferent or areligious, as well as most forms of secularism, humanism and, indeed, aspects of religion itself. It also addresses theoretical and empirical relationships between nonreligion, religion and secularity.” At the same time, the old sport of intellectual ping pong between secularists and religionists continues to attract a popular audience for writers such as Richard Dawkins in the United Kingdom and Philip Adams in Australia. The gods, to paraphrase the title of Christopher Hitchen’s witty anti-religious bestseller, may not be great – but neither, it would seem, are they entirely dead.

Discussion of the secularisation thesis retained its intellectual currency through the work of sociologists and some social historians writing in the tradition of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Émile Durkheim. In the mid 1960s, sociologists such as Bryan Wilson argued that the statistical decline in denominational religious adherence was an indication of declining religiosity for society as a whole, and that this process was unlikely to be reversed. Historians were more sceptical —with a notable intervention by the late Alan Gilbert— pointing to the complexity of the entanglement between society and religious formations over the longue durée, and the way the relationship had waxed and waned in different historical periods. There was also general agreement that the decline of public performance of religion, encompassing census data on denominational adherence, church attendance, membership of religiously-based political parties, or rituals performed on state occasions such as prayers before Parliament, was an imperfect measure of personal religiosity and the potential for religious revival.
Christopher Hartney
Secularisation: New Historical Perspectives


Bonus
Take Japan

Take Japan, which is in a way the most interesting case because it’s the first non-Western society that has successfully modernized. Japan leads to a lot of misinterpretations of sociology, of religion data, because some people like Ron Inglehart see it as a secular society. I don’t think it’s secular at all, but it’s a very different form of religiosity. It doesn’t have the kind of dogma or church that we’re accustomed to in the West. You could say Japan is an alternate modernity in many ways, not just in religion but also the religious shape of Japan is different from that in, say, Europe or North America.

It’s very syncretistic. People see no problem going to a Shinto shrine on certain seasons of the year, being married in a Christian-like ceremony, and being buried by a Buddhist monk. This eclecticism is not just apparent in Japan—it’s in all of East Asia; China is similar in that respect. It’s very different from Western notions, which probably come from monotheism. You either believe or you don’t believe. There’s a Japanese philosopher by the name of Nakamura who wrote a book. I’ve forgotten everything about it except one sentence in it in which he says that the West has been responsible for two basic mistakes. One is monotheism —there’s only one God— and the other is Aristotle’s principle of contradiction —something is either A or non-A. Every intelligent Asian, he said, knows that there are many gods and things can be both A and B. Well, those are deep-seated cultural habits of mind, and they make both religion and secularity where it exists take on a very different form.
An Interview with Peter Berger


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