Starhawk, a leader
of the Wicca
movement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 15
The Future of Religion:
Religion in the Twenty-first century

Outline
The Vitality of Religion
   The Secularization Theory
   Increased Church Attendance in the U.S.
   Liberal Religiousness and Supernaturalism
   The Growth of Expressive Individualism
   New Age Beliefs and Practices
   New Religious Movements and Cults
   The Vitality of Non-Western Traditions
Stages and Styles of Religion Today
   James Fowler's Stages of Faith
Postmodernism and Religion
   Postmodernism and Cultural Relativism
   A Postmodernist Form of Anti-Secularism
   Postmodernism Limits Science
   The Late Modern, Postmodernism, and Fowler's Stages
Summary

THE VITALITY OF RELIGION
Many had claimed that the influence of religion would gradually decline in the modern era, a theory often known as the "secularization thesis."  However, some indicators contradict this idea.  Increased church attendance, a revival of supernaturalism, the growth of New Age beliefs, the continuing success of new religious movements, and the vitality of non-Western religions show that the spirit of religion is very much alive.

STAGES AND STYLES OF RELIGION TODAY
As the introduction noted, the stages of individual development proceed along a path similar to cultural development.  Cultures and individuals both require time to develop complex modes of thought.  This development is a cumulative process in which old ideas are not always rejected, but often enriched or reinterpreted.  Both societies and individuals can pass through stages of a) simple belief, b) respect for authority figures, c) living by a grand narrative, and relying on critical reflection -- or some combination of these..

POSTMODERNISM AND RELIGION
Historians and philosophers define the early "modern" era as a time characterized by the confidence in rational inquiry in a search for universally valid truths and values characteristic of the Enlightenment.  Postmodernism is the label for various theories which argue that the rationality of modern thought is flawed.  Postmodernists argue that all ideas are products of existing societal structure and norms.  Therefore no framework for understanding things is universally valid.  For this reason postmodernism is closely related to cultural relativism, the idea that the beliefs and practices of a society can only be judged in terms of how well they function in that society.  But many postmodernists nonetheless, perhaps inconsistently, tend to favor universal human rights and to promote their viewpoint as universally valid.

A Post-Modernist Form of Anti-Secularism
Postmodernism can provide support for anti-accommodationism-- a rejection of the idea that religious beliefs ought to accommodate the general wisdom of the secular world.  Postmodernists argue that if the secular world fails to provide a compelling enough story for a fully meaningful life, religious beliefs are a perfectly reasonable alternative.

Postmodernism Limits Science
By arguing that even science must be viewed as a product of its social environment, postmodernism gives religious beliefs a shield against scientific thought. It is legitimate for religious traditions to accept a version of reality that is different from widely-held scientific opinion, as long as this reality serves a useful function.

End of notes to Chapter 15

This page last changed Sunday November 16, 2003

In The Presence of Mystery