SOCIAL CHANGE AND RELIGION: THINKING BEYOND SECULARIZATION PERSPECTIVES by Charles Harper and Bryan LeBeau   

    In different ways classical social thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th century all thought that religion would either disappear or become progressively attenuated with the expansion of modern institutions, resulting in a "secularization thesis" aptly captured in the title of Freud's famous The Future of an Illusion (see Durkheim, 1912/1965; Freud, 1957; Marx and Engels, 1848/1858; Tylor, 1871; Weber, 1904/1958:182; and Giddens, 1990:207). The evidence is pervasive and clear, however, that religion has disappeared nowhere but changed everywhere. For those expecting its attenuation to accompany modernization, religion remains surprisingly vibrant and socially salient. This is particularly true in America, but in much of the rest of the world as well, where religion continues to be a potent factor in the emerging global order and its conflicts. It is in parts of Western Europe where individual religiosity has been radically transformed that the secularization thesis seems to work the best.


" In the United States pollsters and scholars have found evidence that the vast majority of Americans continue to believe in supernatural forces, identify themselves in religious terms, and hunger for a spiritually enhanced life."

    In the United States pollsters and scholars have found evidence that the vast majority of Americans continue to believe in supernatural forces, identify themselves in religious terms, and hunger for a spiritually enhanced life. Regarding the later, there is clear evidence that many Americans participate regularly in religious and spiritual small groups and form a large market for religious/spiritual books, tapes, music, and paraphernalia. Religion is a significant factor in voting patterns, ideology about public policy, and political careers. But pervasive evidence also exists for changes that many observers see as religious decline: declining membership, particularly among liberal/mainline Protestant denominations, and declining participation in religious services and traditional forms of piety like prayer and Bible reading. Tolerance of "other religions" grows along with declines in specific confessional and denominational loyalties (i.e., commitment to "brand name religion") (Barna, 1996; Princeton Religious Research Center, 1996, 1997a, 1997b; Hoge, Johnson, and Luidens, 1994; Roof and McKinney, 1987; Bellah and others, 1985.; Roof, 1993; Wuthnow, 1988, 1997; Marquand, 1996; The Economist, 1998:65).

    Responding to religious persistence as well as perceived declines, social scientists have created neosecularization perspectives, ostensibly faithful to contemporary facts as well as classical theory. They understand modernization not to involve the actual disappearance of religion, but perhaps as attenuation and certainly as changing religious forms in relation to other institutions. From the (assumed) benchmark of unitary religion in medieval Europe, scholars have argued variously that secularization involved the differentiation of religion from other institutional realms, the privatization of religious belief and experience, desacralization and the declining scope of religious authority, and the "liberalization" of religious doctrine (See Dobbleare, 1981; Chaves, 1994; Hadden, 1987; Hammond, 1985, Wald, 1997; and Wilson, 1966). Secularization theory, including its amended forms, has yielded many fruitful observations, and the secularization debate continues with great vigor about both the reality and the usefulness of its perspectives (see, for instance, Lechner, 1996; Stark and Iaconne, 1996, Yamane, 1997). While we do not disparage its usefulness, we think that contested issues have narrowed so that, increasingly, facts are less in question as much as are definitional, methodological, and epistemological issues (or perhaps attachment to received social science traditions).

    In this paper we consider the relationship between social change and religion using perspectives other than secularization. Specifically, we utilize perspectives from (1) broad currents of world-historical change, (2) communication and media studies, and (3) postmodernism. We assume that like other institutional realms, religion is embedded in a broad process of sociocultural change, and that in this process religion is not passive, as so often depicted in secularization or modernization theory. Like other spheres, it is a partly autonomous force, reflexively shaping and being shaped by that large-scale transformation. This paper does not offer either new empirical observations or different causal explanations of large-scale change patterns. Rather it uses contemporary analytic frameworks to develop a broad overview of religious change, while suggesting parallel changes in other social spheres that are all embedded in the large-scale sociocultural transformation now occurring.

THE LONG VIEW: THREE SOCIOCULTURAL EPOCHS AND LARGE TRANSFORMATIONS

    Consider a trichotomy of fundamental sociocultural transformations to understand world-historical change in large analytic categories (Following Meyrowitz [1997]; Olsen [1991:256-280], and many others). These include: (1) the Neolithic Revolution that transformed hunter-gatherer groups into agrarian, traditional, or pre-modern sociocultural systems; (2) the transformation to industrial modernity in post-feudal Europe, the world-wide diffusion of which was virtually complete by the middle of the 20th century; and (3) the transformation currently in process. We are more interested in the last part of this trichotomy, even though its contours, salient features, and the very terms to describe it are less clear (e. g., postmodernism, high or late modernity, post-industrial societies, late capitalism, information society).

Pre-modern Traditional societies

    Spanning most of human history (from roughly 8,000 B.C.E. to post Feudal Europe), village and kinship communities dominated pre-modern sociocultural systems, in which production was overwhelmingly for consumption rather than for commodities exchange. Such local communities tightly bound space and time to particular places. In relatively self-contained communities, knowledge and beliefs were transmitted by oral traditions and strongly rooted in personal and local experience (Innis, 1950; Ong, 1977). Such communities were highly aware of being surrounded by very different "others" in different villages and other places.

    People understood that human life and nature were ruled by powerful natural and supernatural external forces, but spheres of social life like religion were still relatively fused and unitary, as were other institutional spheres like the family, work, medicine, or politics. The masses of ordinary villagers only dimly recognized religion or much else as distinct from a seamless web of personal and social life. Religio-magical ceremonies, ritual, and practice were personally conducted between, and strongly identified with, known and intimate others. Indeed, there is little evidence that abstract somethings called religion, religious faith, or different religions existed as words or ideas before the 1600s. Historical research suggests that people in traditional societies rarely understood themselves as participating in something that scholars of later centuries would label as religion, and particularly not as Christianity, Hinduism, or Buddhism (Smith, 1963:39-49). To ask pre-moderns about most of the sociocultural forms we associate with religion today would simply be an unintelligible question.

    Much of the usual history of traditional societies is written about their integrative systems of empire, where legitimacy was conferred by oral vows of loyalty, and about their differentiated panoply of dynastic rulers, soldiers, scribes, priests, merchants, and sorcerers. In retrospect, however, these look more like a significant but thin upper strata living in relatively small urban nodes within a virtual sea of peasants in dispersed villages, 90% by most estimates (Weeks, 1994). This controlling layer maintained itself by coercively expropriating the wealth of rural village communities, but otherwise left the inhabitants of these villages free to control their daily lives and to participate directly in their more immediate political, sociocultural, and religious spheres.

Early modernity

    Modern sociocultural systems originated in post Feudal Europe in the commercial and industrial revolutions, when centers of economic production gradually shifted from the countryside to burgeoning cities. Separate pre-modern communities began to form broader integrated market systems, as competitive production for commodity exchange gradually replaced production for consumption. Industrial capitalism, driven by trade and colonialism, began its slow world-wide diffusion. Mid-20th century social theory described emergent modernity in terms of the progressive growth in scale and differentiation of social institutions and the compartmentalization and specialization of the social roles of persons (Parsons, 1963; Smelser, 1966)--also the touchstones of neosecularization theory. More recent analyses of modernity emphasize: (1) the progressive separation of time and space, with particular places becoming much less important; and (2) the disembedding of social relationships, whereby they are lifted out of local contexts and re-articulated across indefinite tracts of time and space. Two pervasive mechanisms drove these processes: (1) abstract symbolic tokens or standardized media of exchange that operate in a variety of contexts, like money or votes; and (2) reliance on expert systems of knowledge and the services of experts and specialists of all sorts. Expert systems reflected the central ethos of the European Enlightenment, that scientific knowledge and rationality would tame the natural world and overcome the dogmas of tradition (Giddens, 1991:14-21, 28).

    Organizations became the emblematic social forms of modernizing systems, particularly the nation state, as face-to-face feudal relations gave way to nationalism, changing the boundaries of "us" and "others." Political leadership became more distant, inaccessible, and delegated. Machiavelli's book, The Prince, functioned as the first public relations manual for such inaccessible political leaders. Over several hundred years, organizations proliferated and became more distinct, and, as Foucault observed, the boundaries (or "membranes") around prisons, hospitals, military barracks, factories, and schools thickened (1977). People were increasingly separated from households into groups with homogenous purposes and identities. Print communication, later augmented by electronic media like radio and television, fostered far broader solidarity than could the oral media of traditional societies. Printed texts increasingly shaped intellectual worldviews and national myths, as printed constitutions and laws literally helped constitute nations, laws, and national myths (Meyrowitz, 1997: 63-65).

    Like learning and work, worship and religious devotion became increasingly separate and distinct. Religion in larger organizations was distinguished from the shared worship with those one could see, hear, and touch, as in more traditional orders. People increasingly understood religion as activities, organizations, and beliefs as distinct from other institutional spheres, and by the 14th or 15th century it was possible for many Europeans to speak of my religion, religion in general, and other religions (Smith, 1963; Meyrowitz, 1997: 64). As with other institutions in modern systems, organizations or organized religion, as constituted by churches, denominations, and sects, provided the context in which to understand religious belief and practice. Modern religious organizations could unify people across broader spans of time and space utilizing printed holy texts of religious literature and doctrine, or expert systems of special religious knowledge created by theologians, clergy, and bishops. Religious belonging increasingly became a matter of accepting formalized religious doctrines, creeds, and confessional statements (e.g., the Apostle's Creed, the Augsburg Confession, or the Baltimore Catechism). These creeds defined religious identity, related to national, ethnic, or social class characteristics, and provided a basis for distinguishing one's religion from that of others.

    Our point is that much of the current controversy concerning religion is about changes in the on-going fates of the predominant social forms of religion, that emerged in modern societies as late in human history as the 1500s.

Late or High Modernity

    Early modernity carried the seeds of its own transformation. In our view such large-scale transformations are typically gradual and continuous with the past, rather than discontinuous, sudden, apocalyptic, or revolutionary. For that reason, we prefer Giddens's (1991) terms "high" or "late" modernity to the more widely used "postmodernity," but we have no commitment to these terms and would prefer to simply speak of the third large-scale sociocultural transformation that is now on-going, were it not so awkward to do so.

    To note the obvious, globalization has been integrating the world's economic and political systems into vast, abstract relations that have dramatically altered the economies, politics, and the cultures of the world's relatively separate nations since the middle of the 20th century. Electronic communication media continues to augment print, thereby facilitating globalization by making all nations and regions informationally permeable (e.g. TVs, satellite communication, personal computers, and web pages) (Meyrowitz, 1997:65). Giddens contends that globalization is inherent in the fundamental social processes of modernism. The emergence of global-scale economies and institutional connections, however rational to those enterprises themselves, vastly increase the separation of time and space and the disembedding of social relations, often rendering social life incomprehensible to ordinary persons (1991).

    Even though a variety of expert systems dominate the production of knowledge and policy in modern societies, the dream of the Enlightenment, to replace irrational dogmas and superstitions of traditional societies with rational certainty, has failed abysmally. Because expert knowledge, including that of theologians, becomes more specified but about less and less, comprehending and living life becomes more and more difficult. Both larger systems and personal life become infused with uncertainty. Traditional life was more objectively hazardous and risky than life in the modern world but, ironically, expert knowledge and abstract systems have increased the awareness of uncertainties and risks. In late-modernity reflexivity is fundamental to both individuals' selves and institutions, including religion. Matters are continually open to change and doubt, and have probabilistic outcomes. Ulrich Beck therefore characterized modern societies as "risk societies," in which individual action and organizational policy are driven not by a sense of certainty or fate but by calculating the odds. What are some basic social change processes of the transformation to late modernity? (1986).

EARLY TO LATE MODERNITY CHANGE PROCESSES

    At the same time that growth and globalization produce relations that are more abstract, such relations are experienced as problematic, leading to a revival of the importance of relatively small-scale relations and identifications. Thus dual processes, both integrating and fractionating, shape the current sociocultural transformation. These are analytic categories that express and summarize the cumulative effects of other diverse factors and processes. Integrating processes have their sources in the rise of new information technologies and in sociotechnical forces that facilitate the spatial spread of ideas, money, products, and human problems of many kinds. For particular organizations, integration is often accelerated by threats from a broader competitive climate and the necessity of organizations to protect their viability (or profitability) by growth, mergers, or alliances. These processes are associated with the emergence of broad but abstract cultural themes that may threaten particular other ones. In the transition to late-modernism, these forces effect organizations of all kinds: religious, political, economic, and civic. Fractionating processes intensify in relation to integrating ones, because they often transcend the capability of persons to meaningfully identify with them and may threaten people's particular historic commitments. Everyday life becomes more ambiguous or hollowed out, and growing contingencies lead people to withdraw commitments and legitimacy from large systems. Integrating processes may also threaten the everyday life of persons as organizations seek to survive by the efficiency of removing the costs of labor. Thus, there is often a congruence among consciousness, ambiguity, and practical necessity that amplifies attempts to preserve, revive, or reconstitute relatively micro, private, local, or subnational spheres of both personal and social life (Feathersone, and Lasch, 1995:2-3; Beyer, 1990, 373-76; Meyerowitz, 1997;66-68). Next, we illustrate these processes with particular emphasis on religious change. We rely heavily on American evidence and case materials, but we think that the substance of our argument has wider implications.

Integrating processes.

    Growing large-scale relations in many spheres of social life began by the 1850s, perhaps earlier. They accelerated and became more visible after World War II, understood as globalization by the 1960s (Robertson, 1990:26-28). Illustrations include the emergence of a world market system, multinational corporations, a world network of national governments and treaty organizations like N.A.T.O., N.A.F.T.A., the Group of 7 industrial nations, the United Nations with its multitude of agencies, and the World Bank. The growth of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), is less obvious, because many are highly specialized, such as the International Tin Council, the Tug of War International Federation, the Pan American Association of Ophthalmology, and the International Catholic Child Bureau. Only a few are well known, such as the International Red Cross, the Olympic Committee, Amnesty International, and the World Wildlife Fund. Of the known population of INGOs, the vast majority were founded after World War II. Most of these are not religiously connected, but some are (Boli and Thomas, 1997: 176).

    Illustrating similar processes that elaborate broad religious structures across previously existing boundaries is not hard. Ecumenical ventures, like the National Council of Churches, represent a unifying effort, even it at times resorted to out of weakness. Such ventures, however, result in limited cross-boundary ties--given the extraordinary diversity of religious culture and doctrine in the United States. Organic mergers, such as that which gave rise to the United Church of Christ, have occurred, but are rare and usually viable only among organizations having common or compatible religious histories or cultures. Consultations, cooperation, and communion on practical, humanitarian, and even political matters--like the Christian Coalition--are more common, to which we would add new religious or quasi-religious enterprises like Promise Keepers and the Marriage Encounter Movement, which also transcend denominational boundaries. Wuthnow has documented the increasing organization and mobilization of religious resources across denominational lines, along with declining denominational conflicts and prejudices.


"Even though formally apolitical, Pentecostalism, like other transnational Christian conservative movements, is neither escapist nor passive. "

   Moving beyond the U.S., we note the extension of historic religious formations beyond their national or regional bases, their becoming become truly international in important ways. Catholicism comes most easily to mind, and observers have noted both the strengthening of Papal supremacy, and the internationalization of Catholicism, so that it has not only "a structure centered on Rome, but also a remarkable increase in transnational Catholic networks and exchanges of all kinds that criss-cross nations and world regions, often bypassing Rome" (Cassanova, 1996; see also Della Cava, 1992). In the shadow niches of Catholicism, both liberation theology base communities as well as Pentecostalism have become truly international, the one associated with radical politics and the other more apolitical (Thomas, 1996:296). Even though formally apolitical, Pentecostalism, like other transnational Christian conservative movements, is neither escapist nor passive. Pentecostals use their religion to actively organize modern life and push for cultural transformations. In Latin America, for instance, while typically patriarchal, Pentecostalism stands staunchly against machismo culture. A man is to be rational, moral, and responsible, and the family's spiritual leader; in practice he is to be sober, present, and nurturing (Ammerman, 1994).

    Turning to the non-Christian world, it is difficult to understand Islam as anything other than transnational. It dominates much of the world between Morocco and Mindinao, and it is the fastest growing religious affiliation in North America, perhaps in the world. We also note the enormous popularity of Buddhism in the West, particularly among American intellectuals, among whom it resonates culturally with the renaissance of mystical religiosity and spirituality. Of the world religions, Hinduism and perhaps Judaism, are the remaining ones with distinct, though greatly contested, national bases.

    Truly cross boundary ecumenical relations also exist among formations within historic world religions, if not between them. There are, for instance, the loosely connected World Council of (Protestant) Churches, and other Christian ecumenical efforts: Lutheran-Catholic conversations, Catholic Anglican conversations, and ecumenical conversations between the Orthodox and Western Catholic Church. Roman Catholics and Protestants regularly send official observers to each other's important gatherings. But there are still deep divisions between, for instance, evangelical and liberal Protestants, Sunni and Shia Muslims, and Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhists.

    We argue in this article that as religions become truely transnational, there is, with notable exceptions, a process of disestablishment, whereby religions relinquish the most particularistic claims to legitimacy and privilege, and mobilize to protect universal human rights and democratic civil society (Casanova, 1996). Witness, for example, the warm reception of the Dali Lama and the Tibetan cause by both secular and religious leaders around the world, or the expansion of humanitarian or environmental INGOs that are not explicitly religious (e.g., Amnesty International, Greenpeace), but that nonethless have dense network ties within religious organizations. We expect these processes to continue. Just as European nations developed with the help of printing of the vernaculars, new electronic communication technologies now facilitate the rise of what Meyrowitz calls neo-feudal alliances on a global scale (1997:66).

Fractionating processes

    Integrating processes are accompanied by equally pervasive processes, that revive or reconstitute local relations and make personal and communal identity more important and coherent. Such local relations and identities are certainly not new. But as modernity emerged in the 19th century, nation-states came to possess the power and technologies of social control to increasingly subjugate and assimilate them into national hegemonic structures. Evolving globalization, particularly after the Cold War, revived and renewed ethnogenesis and the indigenization of subnational groups. Paradoxically, proliferating state structures exerted less and less control over loyalties, and subnational groups around the world began to reconstitute themselves by becoming more visible, self conscious, and politically contentious. This is true in the U.S. with the contemporary Mohawks, Delawares, Sioux, Navaho, Latinos, and Miami Haitians, as elsewhere among Canadian and Mexican indigenous communities, Scotch nationalists, East Timorians, Kurds, Basques, Berbers, Tamils, Sikhs, and others. They view themselves as inhabiting larger states and cultures that are not their own. In the contemporary world, war and political violence is more likely to be between subnational groups within states than between nation states.

    Turning to economic and political spheres, we note that while large oligopolistic firms and multinationals receive the most public attention and visibility, small and entrepreneurial firms never really disappeared. From the 1970s on they proliferated greatly, in part because of downsizing and the decreasing labor intensity of economic production. Collectively, small firms account for a significant part of America's net economic assets and employment. The large Fortune 500 companies accounted for 20% of the total U.S. economy in the 1970s, and 10% of it by the mid 1990s (Naisbett, 1994:7).

    Both the American and the world economies are becoming bi-modal, economies of "elephants and a multitude of ants." Looking closely at large and multinational firms, reveals not only monstrous hierarchical bureaucratic organizations, but, increasingly, global firms constituted by horizontally connected enterprise networks of consultants, brokers, subcontractors, and subsidiary firms (Naisbett, 1994; Reich, 1991:87). In the sphere of electoral politics in the United States, the decline in party loyalty and the rise of independent voters have been well documented (Lowie and Ginsberg, 1994).

    Americans have always been comparatively individualistic. Yet in the 1980s all national surveys showed an increasing preoccupation with the self, and commentators noted (and often bemoaned) excessive individualism and lack of commitment to organized religion, employers, community, and the nation (Yankelovich, 1981:5; Bellah et al., 1985; Wuthnow, 1988). Growing voluntarism meant that Americans felt increasingly free to choose among commitments of all sorts, relational, familial, political, and religious. These fractionating processes reflect widely recognized characteristics of religious change. They are read negatively as religious privatization, but they can also be read as an increasing religious subjectivity and antinomian spirituality that transcends organizational loyalties, doctrines, and barriers.

    We earlier noted pervasive evidence of the growing openness to mystical religiosity and contemplative styles, the popularity of religious and self-help books, tapes, religious music, and the more recent fascination with angels (direct emissaries from the divine not requiring ecclesial sanction). In America the retail market for religious/spiritual paraphernalia grew to $3 billion by the 1990s, and religious fiction was the fastest growing genre of fiction (The Economist, 1998:65). Growing subjectivity, however, is not experienced or practiced in isolation, connected only by market structures which exploit it. Wuthnow found that a significant number of Americans participate regularly in small groups of all sorts, many of them religious in nature (1994, see also Gallop and Brezilla, 1996). Even conservative religious groups that have the most buoyant growth or staying power, according to poll data, adopt individualistic themes and styles. Megachurches and most thriving religious organizations do so, almost irrespective of doctrines, because they provide small groups aimed at niches for individual interests, problems, and journeys (Thomas, 1996:293).

    It is possible to understand the declining fates of Protestant mainline denominations as their relative failure to provide such small groups and niches, rather than more conventionally in terms of doctrinal deficiencies. And even within the vast multiplex world of American Roman Catholicism, people now shop around for suitable parishes, priests, spiritual directors, and church auxiliary organizations or movements. Research has documented growing mobilization of people between religious groups, declines in interdenominational prejudice, and weakening internal denominational ties (Wuthnow, 1988). What these processes mean, we think, are that organizational forms and doctrinal content are becoming ever more secondary in terms of the ways that religion is experienced and practiced. This may mean the decline of denominational organizations, but not of the principle of denominationalism which emphasizes non-exclusivness and voluntarism (Cassanova, 1994:54).

Institutional de-differentiation

    If differentiation was a hallmark of early modernity, in later modernity the process in some senses has reversed. Institutions and institutional culture are becoming less distinct, particularly at macro levels. At elite levels, the global system is being organized and extended by bureaucrats, technologists, political and business managers, marketers, strategic planners, scientists, INGO mobilizers, and notable "public citizens" (e.g., Jimmy Carter or Mikhail Gorbachev), who share common outlooks and strategic network connections--almost irrespective of nationality or professional training.

    Studies of occupational differentiation within the U.S. have reported similar declining social significance of occupation per se (Sullivan, 1990). Whether one is a lawyer or not is still a significant social fact, but it increasingly makes a difference whether one is a lawyer in a large Pacific Rim investment firm in Los Angeles, or in a small town bank in Oklahoma. Or, to take a more pertinent example, whether one is a sociologist working at a national research institution in Washington and living on grants, or teaching at a community college in Pocatello! Similarly, after several decades of understanding the differentiation of work and the family as a sine qua non of emerging modernity, theorists and family sociologists have recently noted growing reintegration and blurring boundaries between work and family. Hochschild, for instance, argues that work is becoming a more family-like refuge, while maintaining families becomes more like work (1997).

    The thickening boundaries of social spheres and institutions that Foucault described in emerging early modernity now seem to be thinning. In both popular consciousness and scholarly discourse, awareness grows that spheres which used to be understood in separate institutional "buckets," are increasingly connected and interpenetrating: politics and economics, church and state relations, religion and health, family and media, religion and sports, and so on. Connections grow and are more visible across social spheres, categories and cultures. Nevertheless, we are aware of an interpretive problem: Is the situation actually changing, or are the limits of differentiation now only more clear, both to people and social theory? We think both image and reality are changing. To illustrate the latter, consider the public emergence of cross-sectoral actors and organizations. The plethora of politically sanctioned PACs surely qualify, created in the 1970s to replace lobbies that always had a shadowy and covert existence in the previous legal environment emphasizing the separation of spheres.

    Illustrations of more structurally dense and culturally sanctioned religion-polity cross-sectoral links abound. In 1950 there were 16 major religious lobbies in Washington, D.C.; by 1985 there were at least 80 (Herzke, 1988:5). Consider the pietistic and quietist 1950s, when all religious judicatories entered into the public arena with great awkwardness and delicacy, and candidates for office like John Kennedy had to explain why his religion would not be a problem. Then came the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, the presidential candidacies of Pat Buchannan and Pat Robertson, the born-again Carter presidency, the religious base of the Reagan Revolution, and the emergence of religious conservatives as a visible and publicly acknowledged component of Republican Party electoral politics. On the other side of the religious and political spectrum, consider the public advocacy of Jim Wallis, Andrew Young, and Jesse Jackson.

The Integration of Idiosyncrasy

    The most curious and seemingly paradoxical aspect of these dual processes is that across whole units such as national institutions, social categories, and societies, the world and human experience is becoming more alike, shared, and homogenous. But at the same time, members of small-scale units or parts, like families, neighborhoods, or organizational departments, grow to be more heterogeneous, idiosyncratic, and contentious. Macro worlds are becoming more homogenous and shared, while in micro worlds persons experience more choice, variety, and conflict. It becomes more difficult to predict behaviors based on place, demographics, class, or gender categories, because the current sociocultural transformation integrates the members of all groups into a relatively common sphere of experiential options--while providing a new recognition of the special needs and idiosyncrasies of individuals. The world geo-political system exhibits movement toward unification across national boundaries but splintering and re-tribalization within. Consider that:

    In traditional and early modern social orders, conflicts between whole units (between kingdoms, governments, churches, classes, and ethnic groups) took on relatively greater importance and visibility. By contrast, in the late modern world the familiar become strange and threatening, while the strange become more familiar and often friendly. Nothing more clearly demonstrates the interacting character of the dual processes of intergation and fractionation.

Public religion and civil society

    It is difficult to imagine macro and micro social formations without intervening middle-range structural and cultural connections, such as those illustrated above as cross-sectoral links. Vigorous and vital public religion is to be found not only among Protestant Evangelicals in the U.S. and in the American Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops, but also among the national Catholic conferences in Poland, Brazil, and Spain (Casanova, 1994). Outside of the Western world, public religion is manifest certainly in India, where electoral politics was recently dominated by a Hindu party; in Sri Lanka, where religious hostility is an axis of civil war; and Japan, where the Sokka Gakki "Clean Government Party" never polls a majority but is always an essential parliamentary coalition partner. Even more obvious is the revitalized public religion sweeping the Islamic world (regarding the latter, see Moaddel, 1996).

    In the West, however, if God is gaining political voice, it is a God who must speak in nonsectarian and non-doctrinal language--as neosecularization theorists properly note (Yamane, 1997:118-119). Religious judicatories enter public and political life with greater vigor, voice, and public sanction for doing so, but they succeed only by de-emphasizing the hallmark of religion as it was understood in the early modern period: organizational exclusiveness and doctrinal distinctiveness based on specifically religious beliefs. These early modern emphases enabled the differentiation of bureaucratically organized religions (driven by expert knowledge) to become distinct from other institutional spheres and competing religious judicatories.

    But if the voice of religious actors and judicatories is not distinctively religious when they enter public life with such vigor, how do they speak today? In a telling example, a Moral Majority lobbyist reported to a researcher: "We can't afford to say, 'God settled it, that's it'" (Hertzke, 1988:196). Furthermore, while Catholic laity largely approve of a politically engaged American Bishops' conference and hierarchy, it is also abundantly clear that the hierarchy does not control laity's social consciences. Laity resoundingly reject religious teachings on sexual morality, particularly as embodied in the 1968 Humanae Vitae encyclical, and are not only ready to disobey church doctrines, but demonstrate that in good conscience as Catholics they can dissent while remaining faithful (D'Antonio et al., 1989; Casanova, 1994:205). More generally, public religion has learned to prefer "rights talk" to "God talk" (Yamane 1997:118).

    We noted above that transnationalization and public mobilization in civil society comes often at the price of disestablishment, whereby religions relinquish claims to particularistic privilege. Certainly, religious political mobilization is directed at containing the influence of strictly state-oriented secularist movements and parties. As Casanova suggests, however, speaking of Catholicism: "The final Catholic recognition of the principle of religious freedom, together with the Church's change of attitude towards the modern secular environment, has led to a fundamental transformation of the Catholic churches. They have ceased being or aspiring to become state compulsory institutions and have become free religious institutions of civil society....As national Catholic churches transfer the defense of their particularist privileges to the human person, "Catholicism becomes mobilized again, this time to defend modern universal rights and the very right of a democratic civil society to exist" (Casanova, 1966:366). There are large parts of the world where this disestablishment process seems not to apply: in Kabul or other strongholds of Shia Islam, in Jersulaem, or in New Dehli, to the extent that conservative religious parties maintain political and cultural hegemony. But we think these cases are hard to maintain faced with the emergence of the late modern world order. The last two cases are particularly problematic.

    In the study of INGOs cited earlier, Boli and Thomas examined the emergence of a global culture and particular values embodied in the multitude of existing INGOs. What they found more analytically defines, we think, the contours of the voices of public religion, at least in the West. These themes include: (1) universalism, (2) individualism, (3) rational voluntaristic authority, (4) human purposes of rationalizing progress, and (5) world citizenship (Boli and Thomas, 1997:180).


"Religion in America, and perhaps much of the world, is not in a state of general decline or public evisceration."

    Observers of religious change often see it as part of globalization processes or as the reconstitution of spirituality, subjectivity, and small groups. Some miss or misunderstand the reinvigorated forms of national public religion often connecting macro and micro processes. But others have examined these in the U.S. and around the world with great clarity (see Wald, 1997; Casanova, 1994). While vigorous re-shaped forms of national public religion exist that utilize churches and religious authorities, they speak with a curiously ambiguous and ambivalent voice. They appeal to secular values and eschew much of the "God talk" that defined the social forms and doctrines characteristic of confessional religion in the early modern period. To some observers (e.g., Carter, 1993) this ambivalence is prima face evidence of the more general decline or evisceration of public religion in America. We think they mistake transformation for decline.

IN CONCLUSION

    Religion in America, and perhaps much of the world, is not in a state of general decline or public evisceration. Rather, those forms and structures identified most specifically with early modernity are all being reshaped, challenged, and in some senses threatened by the processes of emerging late modernity. These include bureaucracies in general, but more specifically nation-states, denominational and confessional religion, national corporations and cities, and distinct scholarly disciplines. Nation-states, for example, find their sovereignty is being challenged both from below and above, by pervasive alienation from the political process, new courtship rituals, scientific advances that challenge authority, global scientific and cultural exchanges, and international banking and money flows, as well their growing inability to control information and secrecy due to the media and new communication technologies.

    As Giddens succinctly observes, "in circumstance of accelerating global integration, the nation-state has become too small for the big problems and too big for the small problems of life" (1990:65). The same, we argue, could be said of the other systems emblematic of early modernity, and specifically of its religious sociocultural forms. We have summarized schematically parallel elements of the current transition by social sphere and levels of analysis in Table 1.

 

TABLE 1: LARGE-SCALE SOCIOCULTURAL-CULTURAL TRANSFORMATIONS, by levels of analysis and social spheres

Levels of Analysis

REVIVAL, RENEWAL AND RECONSTITUTION. Increasingly significant MICRO relations and subjective experience AMBIVALENCE AND TRANSFORMATION. Declining effectiveness and loyalty to NATIONAL level organizations and culture EMERGENCE AND ABSTRACTION. Growing significant and important global and cross-boundary MACRO relations
Economics. Increasing self employment, entrepreneurialism, strategic networks Relative weakening and disadvantage of national corporations, markets, labor and capital Growing dominance of multinational and global corporations, business networks, and markets
Politics. Increasingly independent voters, and contention for power by sub-national groups Compromised effectiveness of the nation-state and political parties, growing privatization of public functions. Declining trust in the nation-state Increasingly important global and regional networks of nations and multilateral organizations
Community and culture Growing importance and visibility of local community and civic organizations,

New ethnogenesis, proliferation of civil society organizations, and small group participation

Relatively weakening power of communities and urban areas with national ties and markets,

Declining legitimacy and trust in most national-level institutions, and increasing conservatism

Growing power and hegemony of world cities. Emergence of global culture and social movements

Growing importance and visibility of international non governmental organizations (INGOs), and growing global and "cross-boundary" culture

Religion. Growing privatization of experience, emphasis on spiritually and mysticism, selectivity, voluntarism, and participation in small "niche groups," even within larger organizations

Religious conflict increasingly salient when connected to sub-national group conflicts.

Weakening loyalty to denominations, traditional religious practices, and belief in distinctive theologies and confessional statements,

 

Public religion is mobilized and vigorous, but expressed in terms of secular values

 

 

 
Growing ecumenism, intergroup tolerance, and mobilization across boundaries.



Growing communion and confessional relations between denominations; global religious INGOs.

 

 

    Thus, denominational, bureaucratic, and confessional religion appears to weaken. In sum, it seems to us that religion is being revitalized and re-constituted at the micro level, new and historically unprecedented phenomena are emergent at the most macro (global) levels, while the connecting (national, new "mid-range") forms and structures continue to be important, but are being significantly re-shaped and transformed in ways that some take as decline. Change on these three levels interacts and proceeds at a very slow rate; the sociocultural equivalent of glacial change. These processes will inexorably end much of religion as we know it, but not religion.

REFERENCES

 


Charles L. Harper is Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Creighton University.

Bryan LeBeau currently serves as Chair of the Department of History, Coordinator of the American Studies Program, and holder of the John C. Kenefick Faculty Chair in the Humanities at Creighton University.



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