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I have arrived at the above proposition through reflection about some recent experiences, some of them due to projects at the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs CURA at Boston University, a research center which I founded and with which I am still associated. For many years CURA has been engaged in research on global Pentecostalism, much of it in collaboration with David Martin, as a result of which I have become persuaded that Pentecostalism along with the larger Evangelical community of which it is the most dynamic part is a modernizing force —contrary to the widespread view that it is a reactionary counter-modern movement.
CURA has now been preparing two additional projects on the Evangelical community of theologically conservative Protestantism: One on a fascinating American development—the emergence of a growing group of sophisticated, self-confident Evangelical intellectuals—now moving into elite academia in a way curiously similar to what Jews did a few decades ago. There is even an increasingly vocal group of Pentecostal intellectuals, with their own association and journal. The other project is to deal with the robust supernaturalism of Christianity in the Global South, which has been mapped in ongoing publications by Philip Jenkins.
But this is no longer an exotic phenomenon in backward regions: The demographic center of Christianity has shifted from Europe and North America to the Global South, and this new Christendom is strongly supernaturalist and not only among Pentecostals. It is now spilling over into the more sedate churches of the Global North, partly through immigrants, also through missionaries seeking to evangelize the North.
Thus not only do more people in Nigeria than in England attend Anglican services every week, but some of the most dynamic Anglican churches in England have Nigerian clergy not to mention the fact that the Archbishop of York, the second highest individual in the hierarchy of the Church of England is an African. On a more experiential level, for the last three years I have been periodically teaching at Baylor University in Texas, a sort of Baptist Harvard in the midst of the Bible Belt. I have been impressed by its intellectual qualities, but also I have developed an ear for Evangelical discourse.
Some of its phrases are instructive.
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There is a readiness to look for signals from God in occurrences that non-Evangelicals may take as coincidences. Recently I was in conversation with an academic who moved from a prestigious secular university to a less prestigious Christian institution. It is important to point out that many people who operate within this discourse are among the most economically successful in America, technologically up to date both in their personal lives and in their churches, and in some ways more rational for example, in pursuing their political interests than many secular academics.
In other words, they successfully alternate between secular and religious definitions of reality. Luhrmann is an anthropologist at Stanford University. Luhrman carefully describes how they manage to find this plausible, despite doubts caused by the secular discourse in which they also operate. She asserts that they are definitely not, after an elaborate comparison of their experience with that of schizophrenics.
If so, she certainly succeeds in keeping the two discourses apart. Jose Casanova, one of the best sociologists of religion around, has very usefully broken up the concept of secularization into three discrete meanings—the differentiation between religious and other institutions, the decline of religious belief and practice, and the privatization of religion. As religious institutions are differentiated from secular ones as, for example, church from state, theology from science, and so on , the same differentiations must necessarily occur in consciousness.
Consequently, a space opens up for secular discourse in the mind as well as in society. However one describes the history leading to this, there now exists a powerful discourse which operates without recourse to religious definitions of reality. It relates to the latter differently in different parts of the world, but it is everywhere driven by modernization.
It frequently occurs in everyday life. For example, I am moved by the beauty of a painting exhibited in an art gallery. Then I notice its price in the catalogue, and it occurs to me that buying it could be a good investment.
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In that moment I will have switched from an aesthetic to an economic relevance. A modern individual acquires the ability to juggle a plurality of relevances. We did not think of religion at this point. If secularization theory, at least in its original version, is no longer tenable, what should replace it in the sociology of religion? I have for quite some time argued that the replacement should be a theory of pluralization. This is not the place to re-argue the main features of such a theory. It must embrace both the societal and the mental dimensions of the enormous fact that short of a radically totalitarian order it is very difficult under modern conditions to retain or restore a monopolistic worldview.
In society, this means that the normal institutional form of religion is the voluntary association no matter whether churches like this or grudgingly accept it. In the mind, it means that religion, no longer taken for granted, becomes a matter of individual decision. But religious plurality is not only an American phenomenon though, for well-known historical reasons, it has developed in a distinctive version here ; the phenomenon has been amply documented in Europe and elsewhere. Put simply, modernity does not so much change the what of religious faith, but the how.
Much can be said about all of this, as I have done before. Here I just want to propose a significant addendum to a theory of pluralization: A default secular discourse co-exists with a plurality of religious discourses, both in society and in consciousness. This proposition may be interesting to sociologists of religion.
Should it interest anyone else?
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Some years ago Shmuel Eisenstadt suggested that there were multiple modernities. The term is polemical; it attacks the notion that there is only one form of modernity, that of Europe and its overseas extensions.
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That notion was first challenged successfully in Japan after the Meiji Restoration, as that country went through a radical process of modernization while consciously avoiding westernization. Today the idea of alternative versions of modernity is of burning urgency in many parts of the world: What could be the shape of an Islamic modernity? That question has come to the fore with the Arab Spring, but for some time before that event it was urgently debated in Turkey, in Iran and Pakistan, and with regard to the integration of Muslim immigrants in Europe.
Only slightly less urgent have been related questions elsewhere: What is the relation between secular democracy and hindutva in India? Between democracy and halacha in Israel? And, last not least, the current electoral season in the United States has clearly demonstrated that religion continues to be a central issue in the culture wars over the character of American modernity.
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The Peace of Westphalia in produced a compromise which, at least for a while, ended the terrible wars of religion that had killed millions of people across Europe. It was a territorial peace formula, certainly an improvement over the massacre or forced conversion of religious minorities.
Similar solutions are more difficult under modern circumstances and, where tried at all, have typically been accompanied by horrendous atrocities, as for instance in the flight of Muslims out of India and of Hindus out of Pakistan in the wake of Partition. It seems to me that contemporary plurality requires a non-territorial formula of peace. The peaceful co-existence of a secular discourse in the public sphere with a plurality of freely chosen religious discourses suggests what such a formula of peace may look like.
It need not look like, say, a translation of the first amendment to the US constitution into Arabic or Chinese. What it might look like will be determined by ideas and events in one country after another. Please subscribe or login to access full text content. If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code. For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.
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