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date: 23 January 2020

Introduction: Towards A More Organic Understanding of Religion within a Global Framework

Abstract and Keywords

In the present age, engaging effectively in identifying, articulating, and elucidating the dynamics of religion involves the development of a less institutional and more organic concept of religion, and the use of a more global framework. This is the main challenge for the contemporary sociology of religion, the effect of which will be to transform the approach to the study of religion from a discipline largely informed by Western notions of religion derived from the study of Christianity, and Western interests, into one driven by a more rounded cross-culturally relevant understanding of the phenomenon. This article describes the new religious vitality, religious pluralism, and social harmony, and the political management of religion. It also suggests that taking a more organic view of religion has implications for methodology in the sociology of religion, necessitating a greater use of ethnography and qualitative methods generally.

Keywords: religious vitality, religious pluralism, social harmony, organic religion, sociology of religion

In the present age, engaging effectively in identifying, articulating, and elucidating the dynamics of religion involves the development of a less institutional and more organic concept of religion, and the use of a more global framework. This is the main challenge for contemporary sociology of religion, the effect of which will be to transform the approach to the study of religion from a discipline largely informed by Western notions of religion derived from the study of Christianity, and Western interests, into one driven by a more rounded cross-culturally relevant understanding of the phenomenon.

It is of pressing concern that the sociology of religion embraces a wider range of issues, including cognitive science's understanding of religious development, the changing character of secularization, the emergence of new forms of religious transmission and of religious pluralism and diversity and their impact on social harmony—not necessarily by any means a zero-sum situation—and on the formulation and public expression of truth claims. Increasingly relevant to an understanding of the dynamics of religion in society is research on the contest between governments and radicals to control religion, and the strategies put in place by the (p. 2) former to ensure that disaffected second and later generations of immigrants do not succumb to what are described as the extreme ideas and philosophies of the latter. Such political management and shaping of religion rely heavily on various ‘voluntary’ initiatives and programmes for the purpose of constructing particular forms of moderate religion whose potential can then be harnessed to generate social capital and undermine the control of religion by militant extremism.

Relatively recently, sociology of religion has turned its attention, with considerable benefit to the subdiscipline, to new areas of research, to which an organic understanding of religion is best suited, such as the phenomenon of unchurched spirituality, and to the new religious vitality which is widespread and which would appear to owe much of its strength to both local and global trends, including economic migration and the revolution in communications evidenced in the explosion in the use of cyberspace, an innovation that has contributed as much as any other technological innovation to the democratization and the de-objectification of religious knowledge and its transmission.

Among research topics equally relevant and important to a sociology of religion for this generation, but which have on the whole been neglected, are those of religion and ecology, religion and science, and the subject of irreligion. The last mentioned if taken country by country may appear highly marginal, but when looked at globally is in fact a substantial topic. In the case of all of these, as well as others mentioned above, the use of a global perspective and framework of analysis will serve research best, although the social roots or causes will never be exclusively global.

Many of these issues are addressed with expertise in the Handbook. So here I will confine myself to a few observations on some of the questions raised for the sociology of religion by such developments as the rise of the new religious vitality evident in contemporary society, the new forms of religious pluralism and diversity, and the political management of religion, and will end this section of the Introduction with a brief definition of what is meant here by the concept of organic religion. I suggest that this concept be used to overcome some of the serious limitations of the institutionalized understanding of religion and in particular its tendency to create an impression of religion as fixed and static, doctrinally focused, and of processes such as syncretism as aberrations. I also suggest that taking a more organic view of religion has implications for methodology in the sociology of religion, necessitating, as I believe it does, a greater use of ethnography and qualitative methods generally.

The New Religious Vitality

A generation ago, mainstream sociology of religion concerned itself almost exclusively with Western society, leaving the rest of the world to anthropology, and (p. 3) within that framework with Christianity. The dominant paradigm of the sociology of religion was religion's loss of significance at the institutional level and at the level of consciousness. The discourse in broad terms centred on the historical and sociological processes of differentiation whereby religion, once the dominant and overarching societal institution, was decoupled from other spheres of public life. A collective amnesia regarding religious history, beliefs, and practices followed. Now would seem to be the moment to refocus and place the emphasis on religious vitality and processes of ‘re-coupling’, ‘de-differentiation’ and ‘de-secularization’.

This change in focus should not, however, mean an end to research and debate on such standard topics as secularization and sectarianism, for these have by no means been exhausted. As Charles Taylor's A Secular Age (2007) shows, new dimensions of secularization remain to be explored, and we have hardly begun to understand sectarianism outside the Christian context. Studies of this kind of well-established topics will doubtless breathe new life into the debate on these and other standard questions, as a number of the contributions to this Handbook show, including those that discuss issues such as the relationships between religion and evolutionary biology, religion and cognitive science, religious diversity, religious pluralism, the orientation of religions toward the world with special reference to modernization and the environment, religion and culture, religion and delinquency, and irreligion, among others.

It is not the point, therefore, of this Introduction to suggest that the past of sociology of religion has no future and that it be abandoned in favour of a totally new agenda; nor does it seek to discourage the further study of the classical sociological literature on religion. The subdiscipline can only benefit from this being better known and more widely read.

While sociological interest in the issue of religious vitality began some time ago (see Stark and Bainbridge 1985; Martin 1990; Berger et al. 1999), it has increased markedly since 9/11, when religion in its extreme forms came to be seen as a major social problem and in its ‘moderate’ forms as particularly useful for generating social capital, promoting pro-social behaviour, and protecting the most materially and socially vulnerable against crime.

The renewed religious vitality that we are at present witnessing is a worldwide phenomenon, the reasons for which vary from place to place, as do the forms it takes. In Western Europe it is sometimes misleadingly seen as resulting from the arrival of unprecedented numbers of believing and practising economic migrants from Asia, Africa, and parts of Eastern Europe such as Poland and Lithuania. It cannot, however, be attributed solely to these developments, any more than the growth and dynamism of new forms of evangelical Protestantism in Latin America, the resurgence of Islam across the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, and the rise in China, Japan, and elsewhere in Asia of countless New Religious Movements (NRMs), some of them with millions of followers (Clarke 2006), can be attributed solely and directly to the forces of modernization and Westernization. In every (p. 4) incidence of religious vitality, both local and global social, economic, religious, and political forces are at work. The migration westwards of Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists from the Middle East and Asia has undoubtedly contributed to the vitality of religion in Western Europe, and in some cases has acted as a catalyst in this regard, giving rise to a Christianity that is more self-aware and self-assertive. But it has also to be kept in mind that there has been much lapsing and/or backsliding among immigrants, including among Muslim youth, and this has had repercussions on dawʼa, or mission, and on the quality of education provided by the madrasahs (Muslim schools), which in many parts of the world have become stricter about such matters as the effective teaching of Islamic knowledge. Backsliding is usually attributed to Western influence, and it has become the first priority of large, well-organized Islamic missionary movements such as Tablighi Jamaʼat to reconvert those who lapse.

The religious dynamism and vitality and the ever increasing interest in spirituality, wherever they are found, need to be observed from within an internal-external, or a local and a global, framework. The expansion of Evangelical Christianity in Latin America, as Martin (1990) points out, can be best understood if seen from this perspective. It makes little sense to attribute it to CIA sponsorship of North American evangelists whom it is paying to brainwash the peoples of Latin America by spreading pacific forms of pro-American propaganda. The popular association of Catholicism with many of the political and economic ills of the continent has been crucial to the success of Evangelicalism. Likewise in the Muslim world, the Ikhwan or Muslim Brothers movement founded in 1929 by Hassan al Banna (1906–48)—perhaps the most influential of all the Islamist movements of modern times—cannot be fully understood, as Gibb (1978) and Mitchell (1969) point out, if seen purely as a response to Western influence in the Muslim world. The Brotherhood was concerned as much as anything else with rescuing Islam from local forms of corruption. The renewed religious vitality, then, whether we are discussing two of its main centres, Latin America and the Muslim world, clearly has its origins in both local and global conditions.

At this juncture I would like to describe briefly what is meant here by religious vitality. I want to stress that it is not to be understood primarily in terms of numerical growth, but concerns rather the dynamism, or ‘force’, and the ‘scope’ of religion in the contemporary world.

Religious Vitality Unpacked

Although he saw them as related, as they clearly are, the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1968:111–12) made a useful distinction between the ‘force’ and the (p. 5) ‘scope’ of religion. His idea of force was not unlike Durkheim's (1915: 209) and referred to the degree of determination with which believers hold and are held by their faith. By scope he meant the range of social contexts within which religious views are considered as being either more or less relevant. Both of these aspects of religion have become more pronounced in recent times—as, it is worth noting, political ideologies have come to differ more in form than in substance. It could be said that religions too, at the lay level and the level of practice, are becoming increasingly like each other, and hence the concern of official religion to define more clearly the boundaries.

The increases in force and scope of religious belief have aroused considerable concern among humanists and even among devout and practising politicians, some of them Muslim, others Christian, and others Hindu. Among the Christian politicians who have expressed concern in this regard is the former United States President Jimmy Carter, who is persuaded that religion is striving to acquire too great an influence over the public realm, to the disadvantage of both the public and the religious spheres. By contrast, some secularization theorists continue to be persuaded that religion's influence over the public sphere has decreased, is decreasing, and will continue to decrease, for they argue that an ever more diverse and pluralist world that increasingly relativizes religious truth claims makes it virtually impossible for religion to regain a firm hold over the public arena. The present growth in individual religiosity and spirituality, it is claimed, affords proof of this.

It might be argued that secularization theory, on account of its institutional focus and its static concept of the phenomenon, has lost sight of religion's organic qualities, its potential dynamism, its capacity to reinvent itself and to combine with many other forms of life while retaining its own distinctiveness and conserving its own identity. Perhaps it has also underestimated religion's intellectual role, considering it to have been replaced by scientific explanation. However, for so many in the West as elsewhere, religious explanations of such persistent and intractable problems as the problem of evil and suffering remain as attractive as other, secular kinds of explanation. Moreover, religion's capacity to engender hope that the world can be transformed through such messianic beliefs as belief in the Second Advent of Jesus or in the case of Muslims in the coming of the Mahdi (God-guided one) who will, it is thought, ensure the triumph of Islam and restore equality and justice to the earth, or in the appearance every 100 years of the mujaddid or renewer, whose role is similar to that of the Mahdi, would appear to be undiminished. Beliefs of this kind continue to be strongly held almost everywhere in the modern world, even in places where one would least expect to find them, including in the world of Japanese Buddhism, particularly in its more recent expressions such as Soka Gakkai, in neo-Hindu movements such as the Brahma Kumaris (daughters of Brahma) movement, in the Korean Won Buddhist movement, and in such Chinese movements as Falun Gong (Chang 2004) and the Chinese Christian-derived Eastern Lightning and/or Church of Almighty God. (p. 6) There is hardly a single example of religious innovation in the contemporary world in which these beliefs have not figured prominently. Yet only very few sociological treatises have examined their potential to generate powerful religious commitment and ideological fervour. Until recently, it was common for sociologists of religion to view all such religious enthusiasm, commitment, and fervour as features of traditional societies as Weber defined them. And even where religion fails to explain, and faith tends to waver, many adopt Pascal's position that it would be wiser to act as if God does exist rather than if she or he doesn't.

The social impact of the new religious vitality takes many forms. In modern, late modern, and/or postmodern society, it gives rise to the previously mentioned contest over public space in which religions are now engaged with secular society. The contest is highlighted by the modes of social insertion that certain religions tend to adopt as they become established in new territories. Today most religion is global, and the ending of religious regionalism has come rapidly. When I began researching Islam in Western Europe in the early 1970s, that religion was no more than an exotic appendage to the rest of Western European religious culture, whereas now it makes sociological sense to speak of European Islam as it does of European and, in the United States, American Buddhism (Queen 2000; Cadge 2005). These new religious formations give rise to new forms of what was referred to above as social insertion as they begin to challenge publicly mainstream society's arrangements in relation to religion and society, religion and law, health, education, politics, employment legislation, and worship.

In contemporary Western society and in predominantly Muslim countries such as Turkey, the contest over public space between the secular and the religious, rather than being resolved, is intensifying and engages both those who regard religion as a private matter and those who are so gripped by their religious beliefs—not necessarily in an intellectual sense—that they refuse to accept limitations on their application, cases in point being certain forms of Islamism that pursue the establishment of an Islamic state which, they argue, is a Muslim imperative. The obligation to establish an Islamic state is not only not accepted by all Islamists, but is one that, it has been argued by specialists in both Islamic and Western jurisprudence, is incompatible not only with democracy but also with theocracy (El Fadl 2004).

That religion has come to be seen once again as an influential force in contemporary society presents it with opportunities to engage more actively in the debate in the public domain on issues of education, delinquency, ethics and morality, politics, the environment, race, immigration, and health. This is a noticeable change, in that until relatively recently the voice of religion, while it was on occasion listened to with respect, is now considered to be a necessary element in the decision-making process. In this sense there is already under way an informal process of desecularization in which the relationship between the sacred and the secular is undergoing realignment and can no longer be described as one of separation. Recent discussions in France over the status of degrees offered by (p. 7) Catholic universities and other tertiary-level religious institutions is but one example of this realignment.

A sociology of religion agenda for the present generation might usefully be constructed around the issues touched on above within the framework of a discourse on religious vitality worldwide, a vitality whose force and scope in many parts of the world is on a scale equal to that of any religious revival in history. Moreover, where the degree and extent of religious innovation are concerned, the present age might well be described as an axial age. There can be little doubt that Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity, to name but these four religions, have undergone in the past fifty to a hundred years or so changes as profound as any in their previous history, and are continuing to experience change on an unprecedented scale. Even the misleadingly labelled Traditional religions such as those of Africa, Oceania, the Americas, and Asia are radically changing, some of them changing even their very character and orientation as ethnically based, non-proselytizing religions, to universal religions with a salvific mission.

While the force and scope of religion have increased, as we have seen, no one religious orientation predominates with the exception of a few parts of the world; nor does religion or any one religion communicate an uncontested ideological message. For example, in North America and in the West generally, while there has been an explosive rise over the past fifty years of theologically, morally, and socially conservative religion, liberal religion has also been on the increase, as has involvement in unchurched spirituality (Stark et al. 2005; Heelas and Woodhead 2005). The new kind of religious pluralism everywhere in evidence has contributed to this diversity of religious opinion, particularly in the West. At the same time it has introduced new styles of being religious and new ways of believing and belonging, and has also enlarged and diversified the ‘spiritual marketplace’ (Roof 1993), raising for further discussion important questions that preoccupied classical sociology, including the question of the relationship between religion and social cohesion.

It could of course be argued that the religious vitality and spirituality driving the process of desecularization are transient phenomena, their transience resulting in large measure from their lack of adequate institutional structures. While further comments will be made on this issue below, this seems an appropriate place to make the point that solid structures can create as many dilemmas for the survival of religion as can their absence. This was seen in the decline of Anglicanism and the rise of Methodism in eighteenth-century England, when the Anglican Church's structures wedged it firmly in the rural areas, while Methodism's lack of structure gave it the flexibility necessary to evangelize the emerging industrial towns.

Religion, then, does not survive only when it is institutionalized. Although they have become highly complex structures of a kind, there is no church of Buddhism, or of Hinduism or Islam. Furthermore, given the profound transformation in communications now under way, it might well prove to be the case once again that solid structures impede growth, while movements with fragile structures that (p. 8) are easily dismantled and that depend on networking may be better prepared to reorganize and meet new demands as types and styles of religion and spirituality change, for, as studies of New Religious Movements (NRMs) have shown, they do tend to change almost every decade, if not more often.

The New Religious Pluralism and Social Harmony

The new types of religious pluralism and diversity which have emerged during the past fifty years have never before been encountered in the West or anywhere else in the form and on the scale which they have now assumed. While previously it was mostly branches of the same religion that provided pluralism and diversity, now it is different religions each of which contains within itself a variety of expressions. This is the new feature of religious pluralism and diversity that needs addressing in relation to social harmony and integration.

Religious diversity is not new to sociological enquiry. It was an important part of the original agenda of sociology, which sought to understand the challenges to social cohesion posed by differences, cultural and religious. Sociologists from the outset asked fundamental questions of a hermeneutical kind regarding the meaning of different ways of life and how these impacted on society. One weakness of the classical sociological approach to interpreting the meaning of different ways of life, including different ways of being religious, was its tendency to think of societies as singular entities or integrated units and its apparent blindness to the many different worlds that members of these societies might be inhabiting simultaneously.

Thus, while it must continue to meet the challenge of interpreting religious difference, contemporary sociology of religion must also consider, whatever the unit of analysis, integration as an empirical variable. Outside and within religions, beliefs, moral and theological, are contested, and boundaries porous, providing fertile soil for the revitalization of religion. As indicated previously, such pluralism and diversity fed mainly by economic migration do not and need not create a zero-sum situation where social harmony and integration are jeopardized, but may well prove to be a strength in this respect. What is further of great interest about this topic is how religious pluralism and diversity are handled in public places such as school and college assemblies, how the approach and understanding of those who teach religion in these and similar institutions, and of those who interpret and execute the law have been affected, and the contribution all this might make to social cohesion and the related sphere of human rights.

(p. 9) The Political Management of Religion

The question of the political management of religion touched upon above takes different forms depending on constitutional arrangements, the ideology of the governments in question, the nature of the legitimacy, if any, that governments enjoy, and the kind of political control they seek or have a mandate to exercise. These factors in turn determine governments' attitudes toward, and the measures they are prepared to adopt to uphold, order and stability.

As previously noted, in Europe governments are engaged more or less directly, depending on the context, in creating ‘moderate’ religion and in particular ‘moderate’ Islam, a highly controversial term. In China the search goes on for a neo-Confucianism that will assist in dealing with the moral and social issues raised by rapid economic expansion; in Thailand Buddhism continues to be used to ‘civilize’ the so-called Hill Tribe peoples such as the Akha; and in Japan scholars and government are assessing the contribution that the teaching of religion in schools might make to lowering suicide rates among the young and tackling behavioural problems such as bullying.

Virtually everywhere, governments are engaged in the management and even the production of religion and spirituality through education and other means, and in certain contexts one of the indirect and mostly unintended consequences of this has been to allow greater space to religion in the public sphere. However, government initiatives to construct moderate and socially purposeful religion do not always have the desired effect, and can contribute to the spread among opponents of the existing political regime of what is presented as ‘authentic’ politically uncontaminated religion. Both of these situations give strength to the idea of religion as an ideology, a perception that religious leaders are at pains to discount.


One of the main intellectual implications of what has been said about contemporary forms of religious vitality is that thinking about religion in the same way and with the same habits of mind as in the past is no longer sustainable. Using, as has been suggested above, a global framework and a more organic model of religion would allow the sociology of religion to develop a more refined and sophisticated understanding and approach to religion in the contemporary world, where the de-objectification of religious knowledge and the teaching and practice of spirituality through the media and cyberspace have reached an advanced stage, and where tool kits for constructing both religions and spiritualities are readily available and in (p. 10) plentiful supply. An organic understanding of religion would transfer the emphasis from belief and institutions to religion as life, to the implications of what is lived out as religion, often in a personal sense, to an idea of religion as open to change and as having the power to change society. Indeed, it remains for millions the only instrument available with this power and their only language of political discourse. For this reason it is in certain political contexts tightly controlled.

While research on vertical, institutional forms and standard types of religion remains an important ingredient of the agenda of the sociology of religion—for, as was previously mentioned with reference to secularization, these issues have not been exhausted, nor could they ever be—at the same time it would seem to make sense to place greater emphasis on research into the more creative and horizontal forms of religion and spirituality. Researching this kind of religion, which receives much of its stimulus from the new kinds of pluralism and diversity that are taking shape across the world, necessitates the use of mixed methods and, in particular, a greater reliance on qualitative and ethnographic methods. Moreover, its success will depend on the development of both a more organic understanding of religion and a new perspective, a global perspective, both of which should enable research to appreciate more fully the complexities of the somewhat baffling contemporary phenomenon of the revival of religion, the explosion of religious vitality, and the future of the religious past, in modernizing, modern, and postmodern or late modern contexts.

The Handbook

The remit of this volume has been to provide scholars with the opportunity to reflect critically on issues long discussed by sociology of religion, to introduce others long relevant but little researched, and to consider the implications for the subdiscipline of the sociology of religion of others that have begun to emerge only relatively recently. It has also been kept in mind that the so-called established or standard issues that have preoccupied sociologists of religion have undergone change and are no longer precisely the same kinds of issues as they were when first discussed, as the chapters on secularization and related topics clearly indicate (see among other contributions the chapters by Dobbelaere and Turner).

The structure of the Handbook is somewhat arbitrary. In a number of instances chapters placed in one part could well fit in another, an example being Paden's (see Part I) creative and thought-provoking reappraisal of Durkheim in the light of research in evolutionary biology on Homo sapiens. This counters the tendency to take a static view of the classics of the sociology of religion such as Durkheim's Elementary Forms (1915) and Weber's Protestant Ethic thesis (1965), and often to (p. 11) rule out any possibility of reconciling their theories on religious belief and practice with more modern and postmodern scientific world views.

While even an uncommonly lengthy volume such as this could not hope to address all of the issues with which sociologists of religion might wish to engage, it is worth mentioning that some topics apparently missing appear in a hidden, implicit form, and some that are treated directly are also taken up in contribution after contribution. The all too brief summary that follows of the content of the chapters cannot hope to do justice to their quality.

Part I: Theory: Classical, Modern, and Postmodern

As the above discussion of the importance of an organic understanding and a global framework for the sociology of religion for the present age makes clear, classical theory remains a core element of the subdiscipline. The contributions to Part I offer critical reflection on several aspects of classical sociological theory, including its capacity to meet the needs of contemporary sociology of religion, on how the classical sources have been interpreted, and on the uses to which they have been put (see chapters by Gellner, Kippenberg, Turner, and Paden).

This critical revisiting of classical sociology suggests—and this point is strongly made by Kippenberg and Paden in particular—that, if understood as intended, it remains a useful hermeneutical resource. As Kippenberg, for example, points out, Weber's sociology of religion has been mostly read as a theory of secularization, when what Weber assumed was a different relationship between religion and modernization than this reading suggests. A strong emphasis in Weber, Kippenberg argues, was on how the process of disenchantment when establishing secular orders as autonomous spheres becomes a catalyst for new types of religiosity rather than the decline of religion. The themes of secularization/disenchantment and enchantment emerge again in Turner's chapter on Weber's sociology of comparative religion and his Kantian notion of secularization. In this chapter Turner argues that whatever the tradition—Christian, Islamic, or Confucian—the life and authority of the educated and elite carriers of religion are undergoing a serious challenge from the popular ‘spiritual supermarkets’ (see Roof 1999 and Chapter 34 below). This form of re-enchantment of the world, Turner suggests, would appear to contradict Weber's general secularization thesis.

Gellner's presentation also focuses on Weber, and mainly on the selective and variable use and/or lack of use of Max Weber in anthropological discourse on Buddhism and Hinduism. Gellner also draws some insightful parallels between (p. 12) classical and contemporary social-scientific discourse and in particular between the ideas of Weber and those of Foucault.

Furseth suggests that Foucault's and Bourdieu's ideas are important to the study of religion, particularly for the insights they provide into the links between religion and power, a theme taken up by ter Borg, who develops a model of religious power based on the human need for ontological security. Furseth further suggests that there is much theoretical potential in Habermas's ideas on religion in the public sphere and on the rights of religious minorities, a topic of increasing relevance.

Hamilton's chapter critiques one of the most widely discussed and controversial of modern sociological theories of religion, rational choice theory (RCT), a theory also discussed by Hefner among others. Following Spickard (1998), Hamilton suggests that RCT is best seen not as a theory that explains individual actions and choices, but as a heuristic device for understanding religious provision and consumption.

That globalization makes it impossible for the sociology of religion to continue in the same vein as in the past is one of the main emphases of Hefner's wide-ranging contribution on religion and modernity worldwide. This chapter also contains a critique of rational choice theory, classical thinking on secularization, and key postmodern concepts concerning religion. Regardless of the answer to the thorny question of whether objectively there is a postmodern culture and philosophy, Wenzel's approach is to insist that subjectively such a phenomenon exists, and that its consequences for standard or traditional church-based religion entail further secularization (see also Dobbelaere's chapter), the emergence of new styles of expressive, personal styles of religion (see the contributions by Bailey, Hamberg, Heelas, and Granholm), and the growth of fundamentalism as a backlash (see Shupe's chapter).

The location of religion in modern and postmodern society is also a theme in Waggoner's wide-ranging chapter which examines the thinking of Durkheim, Marx, Foucault, and Derrida on culture and religion. This chapter also provides a historical and sociological critique of the notion of religion as a state of affairs, rather than a state of mind, a debate which in the social sciences goes back to Durkheim and Marx.

The study of religion in general, and not just the sociology of religion, often tends to be slower than other branches of the social sciences and humanities to take up and test new sociological thinking and theory, and this slowness is evident, Hawthorne points out, in relation to feminist and gender theory, which had already become a meta-critical tool in the social sciences and humanities before the study of religion sought to engage with it. As to the future, Hawthorne suggests a move away from universalist pretensions of the study of religion and a greater readiness on the part of gender-critical approaches to the study of religion to engage in more constructive dialogue with post-colonialist theory.

(p. 13) Part II: Method

Debate over sociological method (see Riis's chapter) has been one of a number of constant themes in sociology of religion, as has debate over the use of the term religion itself and its definition (see Droogers's chapter) and the related questions of the boundaries between religion and other areas of life—for example, morality (see Reeder's chapter), art (see Wuthnow's chapter), and science (see Bainbridge's chapter on science and religion). This debate has more recently been extended to cover the subject of the role of cognition in relation to the origins and development of religion (see Reich's chapter). These issues have been made ever more complex by the all-pervasive pluralist and global character of contemporary society and by the profound transformations already referred to, which religions are presently undergoing. Finding adequate methods for the sociological study of religion in this context is a difficult challenge, but one nevertheless taken up by Riis, who discusses the relative value of quantitative and qualitative approaches and offers compelling reasons for a methodological combination which makes use of both. This does not, however, mean closure where the debate on method is concerned, for as Riis warns, his proposal brings with it its own difficulties.

Jensen's chapter on the nature and role of conceptual models—which also involves an analysis of the nature and role of ideal types—makes a bold attempt in the direction of further refinement of methods widely used in the sociology of religion, while Droogers tackles the vexed question of defining religion by looking at a map of the landscape through which definers travel. He highlights the merits of a social-constructionist approach to the issue, maintaining that definitions cannot be isolated from the position of the definer in global society, or from the religion and science and the secularization debates (see Bainbridge's chapters and Dobbelaere's chapter).

Unlike anthropology of religion, sociology of religion has paid little attention to date to the contribution that cognitive science might make to our understanding of the origins and development of religion. Reich looks at the concept of religion as used in cognitive science, by which he means evolutionary neurobiological cognitive science, over against psychological studies of cognition and its ontogenic development. He critiques the work of Boyer (2001) among others in this area, whose idea of religion, he suggests, is too narrow. In its place Reich offers a model which he believes serves to describe the dynamics of religious and spiritual development, which, he maintains, can be triggered by events either outside or inside the multiple self. Reich divides this multiple self into a central, striving, social, and religious self, a concept and definition of self that will be of interest to scholars in the fields of contemporary spirituality (see the chapters by Hamberg and Heelas), Oriental religions and certain of the so-called Traditional religions.

(p. 14) Part III: Religion and Boundaries: Morality, Science, Irreligion, Art, and Embodiment (Trance)

As several of the contributors to Parts I and II make clear, there is no fixed, ongoing relationship between religion and other spheres of thinking and behaviour. This notwithstanding, religion and other spheres can become differentiated, and Reeder examines in this section of the Handbook the processes whereby morality has been decoupled from religion, not only in the world of academia but throughout society. In doing so he questions the hermeneutic value of the cosmicization thesis as applied to morality, principally because it obscures the attempt to relate norms and values to the perceived environment. The sense in which these two systems of ideas and behaviour can be understood as distinctive relates, he suggests, to their focus, morality being concerned primarily with interhuman issues, in contrast with religion, which fixes its attention on the fundamental causes of well-being and suffering.

The relationship between religion and science was a prominent theme in the formative period of sociology as a discipline, and Bainbridge examines recent attempts by scientists and religious scholars to delineate the potential for a relationship between the two in the vastly different context of modern society, and what kind of relationship might be a fitting one. While maintaining that there are strong grounds for thinking that the relationship will inevitably be hostile—regardless of whether the type of religion in question is fundamentalist or conservative or liberal—Bainbridge notes that recent research has identified a tendency among the young to believe that an accommodation between the two is a possibility.

The question of the relationship between religion and science emerges again in Bainbridge's contribution on the relationship between religion and irreligion and/or atheism, a much neglected theme, as was previously noted, in the sociology of religion. In this second contribution he argues that the study of atheism, although a minority viewpoint, is indispensable to the study of religion in that, among other things, it poses several complex and difficult questions for all theories of religion. Interestingly, Bainbridge suggests that the future of this minority position often considered unworthy of serious attention by scholars and dismissed as merely froth on the beer—the beer being belief in God—might lie in developments of cognitive science (see Reich's contribution).

As Wuthnow's presentation shows, perhaps surprisingly for many, religion and art, while they overlap at certain points, do not easily accommodate each other. The relationship spans a continuum, the oppositional end of which would include Islam, which prohibits all forms of representational art; types of Buddhism, including such modern movements as Korean Won Buddhism and the Thai Santi Asoke movement, both of which oppose the use of images of the Buddha; forms of Christian asceticism, (p. 15) including elements of the Western monastic tradition and Puritanism; and at the more accommodating end one could place types of Hinduism such as devotional Hinduism, Shinto, and many African and African-derived religions such as Umbanda and Candomble. Wuthnow's main focus is the United States, where he sees overlap in several domains, including dance and rock music in the liturgy. However, he is also aware that this relationship is a much neglected theme in the sociology of religion, where there is little or no research available on what further bridging between the two spheres might be possible.

Sociology of religion has made little effort to understand the sociological dimensions of ecstatic forms of religion, including trance and/or possession, forms which are central to the religion and spirituality of peoples worldwide. Lewis, a social anthropologist, has long been concerned with the question of the social roots and meaning of trance and possession (see his book Ecstatic Religion, 1971), and in his contribution to this Handbook he explores, through an examination of altered states of consciousness most frequently externalized in behaviour through trance, the correspondence between religious and sexual experience which is as yet little studied.

Part IV: Religion and the State, the Nation, the Law

Until recently it was widely taken for granted in the Western world that clearly defined boundaries existed between church and state. But, as we saw in the first part of this Introduction, such thinking has begun to be challenged as world views increasingly compete with each other and with humanist and secular philosophies in the same public arena and demand greater space and a voice on all matters of life, from health to education, to politics, economics, law, and religion. This is not an exclusively Western issue, but has also flared up in recent times in Indonesia, India, and Nigeria. In Nigeria the demand for a federal Shariʼa court during the debate on the constitution for the Second Republic in the late 1970s almost tore the nation apart.

The relationship between religion and the state has never been easy or harmonious for long. Moreover, it has taken a variety of forms, as Hammond and Machacek show in their historical overview of the variable relations that have existed between religions and the state with reference to several countries, including China, Brazil, and Poland. These two contributors to the Handbook also note the difference often overlooked between the relationship of politics and religion and that of religion and the state. While there is increasing focus on the relations between religion and the state, few topics can be as relevant today as the ever tighter link between religion and nationalism. This is not so surprising in many parts of the world where the only effective language of political (p. 16) discourse, as was previously mentioned, is religious language. Jaffrelot highlights the ambiguous nature of the relationship between religion and nationalism, illustrating his argument with reference primarily to India, but also examining other cases.

Although present in the classical sociological writings of Durkheim and Weber, the relationship between law and religion has largely been ignored in the sociology of religion. This topic is central to Richardson's contribution, which focuses on the impact that religion has had on legal systems, and how religious groups, especially dominant ones, can make use of such systems and even contribute to the process of their construction. He also considers how law and legal systems can be used to exert control over religions and religious practitioners, especially over minority faiths, an issue that scholars of New Religious Movements (NRMs) have frequently addressed (Richardson 2004).

It is sometimes assumed that once enshrined in a Constitution or Bill of Rights or United Nations Declaration, human rights will be protected. Pace, in a contribution that ranges widely across different religious traditions and branches within those traditions—Hindu, Islamic, and Christian—focuses in particular on the lack of fit that can exist between state law that guarantees human rights and religious law or custom, examples being freedom of belief and worship and the right to choose one's partner. The importance of this field of research increases with the emergence on the back of globalization of ever more religiously diverse societies and new forms of religious pluralism.

Part V: Globalization, Fundamentalism, Migration, and Religious Diversity

Every entry in this Handbook treats to a greater or lesser extent the question of the impact of globalization and its effects on contemporary and historic forms of religion and spirituality. There can be little doubt about the considerable impact that Oriental religions have had in recent times on Western forms of religion and spirituality and of that exercised by Western Christianity over a longer period on Oriental religions.

As Robertson's chapter points out, there has been a reaction from humanists among others to global developments in religion. Robertson argues that one of the core features of the contemporary global situation as it impacts on religion is the rapidly developing tension between the widespread and disputed quest for explicitly formulated national identities, on the one hand, and the problematic increase in the intra-societal valorization of religious faiths, on the other. The reasons for this (p. 17) include the aggressive promotion of ostensibly atheistic and secularistic ideas by prominent intellectuals in the UK and the USA, and he cites as examples Dawkins 2006 and Hitchens 2007. This and related tensions have their roots, Robertson maintains, in global connectivity and increasing global awareness. Drawing on Durkheim's notion of society and religion as inextricably bound together, Robertson sees emerging in the United States a politicized civil religion with a strong theocratic flavour, a strange paradox given the post 9/11 war on Islamist extremists whose goal is the creation of an Islamic state.

Shupe's chapter relates extremist forms of religious orientation directly to globalization; indeed, Shupe sees it as the other side of the same coin. By contrast, Plüss's account of migration and the globalization of religion speaks of the multipolar processes of belief and practice that result as migrants of the same religious tradition, on finding themselves in different contexts, use their beliefs to address important existential questions that arise from their new experiences. Religion, however, does not always act as a social glue binding migrants together. The extent of the religious involvement of immigrants should not be exaggerated, for there are those among them, in some cases a sizeable minority, who use their new status to ‘liberate’ themselves from religion, or at least the religion of their birth and upbringing. As was already noted, it is this turning away, viewed by religious authorities as lapsing or in Islamic terms as backsliding, that provides the catalyst for the growth and expansion worldwide of missionary movements such as Tablighi Jamaʼat. First-generation immigrants tend to live in quarantine in relation to the host society, and this stage is followed by a process of mixing, in which there tends to be a decline in religious practice, and following on this stage reform, a stage which is a marked feature of Muslim communities in the Western world.

In their chapter on religious diversity Bouma and Ling question the utility of the nation-state as a primary focus of analysis of contemporary forms of this phenomenon, which is mostly global. Notwithstanding its increasingly complex nature, Bouma and Ling maintain that religious diversity offers the researcher a useful conceptual tool for examining how changes in religion impact on social life, and the converse.

Part VI: Religious Collectivities and the Status and Role of the Religious Professionals (the Clergy)

Dawson in his chapter attempts to refine the classification of religious collectivities into churches, denominations, sects, and cults; while convinced that it remains a (p. 18) useful typology, he recognizes that its ethnocentric character largely limits it use to the Western context. However, rather than abandoning the ideas of Weber and Troeltsch on which this typology is based, Dawson suggests that researchers revisit their writings to gain a better-informed understanding of their ideas, which will, he believes, provide them with a universally applicable way of categorizing religious organizations, based essentially on the variable of mode of membership.

Zubaida examines the divide between the Sunni or mainstream Islam and the Shiʼi branches of Islam. There are many types of Shiʼism, the largest being the Imami or Twelver Branch of Shiʼism, which is the religion of the majority of Muslims in Iran, southern Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Lebanon. Zubaida provides a historical overview of the divide between Sunnis and Shiʼites before raising the question of the renewed political thrust of the once politically quiescent Shiʼism in modern times, beginning with its construction as a radical ideology in Iran in 1979. Zubaida's view is that the Sunni-Shiʼite divide is effectively more a political and sociological category than a theological one, as it becomes significant only at times of political and social upheaval.

Ammerman looks at what, from the perspective of the sociology of religion although not historically, is a relatively new kind of religious collectivity, the congregation. This form of religious association consists of a locally situated, multi-generational, voluntary group of people who see themselves as distinct and engage jointly in religious activities. While closely associated with contemporary religious practice in the United States, where there are well over 3,000 such congregations, 80 per cent of which are Protestant in persuasion, this form of gathering may have had its origins among the Jews in exile in Babylon in 586 bce and would appear to be a particularly appropriate forum for worship among religious communities in diaspora whose culture goes unsupported by the wider society. Ammerman sees the congregation becoming ever more important as a point of communal identification as global migration increases in scale (see Plüss's chapter).

The clergy have come under more scrutiny in recent times than perhaps any other profession, and the social and religious issues that have given rise to such intense scrutiny—paedophilia, the ordination of women, and homosexuality, among others—are addressed by Hoge, who also writes of the declining authority and status of this profession. Among the more important reasons for this decline, he suggests, are increasing differentiation and greater egalitarianism in the relationships between clergy and laity. Hoge is persuaded that there is a need for more relevant and appropriate training for the clergy if they are to perform an effective role in a world that is turning ever more religiously diverse, and suggests that new research be started in a number of areas with which scholars are familiar but about which little of substance is known, including those of women clergy, homosexual clergy, and clergy outside any denomination.

(p. 19) Part VII: Secularization and the Reproduction and Transmission of Religion

It is worth repeating here the point made above, that standard religion is experiencing change and challenges on an unprecedented scale, both from without and within. Addressing mainly the situation in the West, and more specifically the European Union, Dobbelaere argues that there are clear indications that what he refers to as ‘manifest secularization’ or ‘laicization’ as it is known in France will increase in the years to come. He is at the same time careful to point out that this process, since it is ‘man-made’, is not irreversible. Dobbelaere also takes up the question of the continuing sensitivity to religion displayed by individuals under the label of ‘individual secularization’, which he sees as the loss of control by religious authorities over the form and content of what people believe and how they practise. Defined thus, Dobbelaere contends that the continuation of religious belief and practice at the individual level confirms rather than refutes the theory of secularization. Among the most complex and serious challenges confronting standard and other forms of religion such as Pentecostalist and Evangelical forms of religion in Korea and New Religious Movements (NRMs) (see Bromley's chapter) is the challenge of intergenerational transmission. Roof's presentation stresses the importance of the nexus between generations and religion, and calls for more research on every aspect of the intergenerational question and in particular on ‘second-generation’ immigrants across countries, about whom very little is known.

Edgell, who has carried out extensive and in-depth research on religion and the family, concentrates in her contribution to this Handbook on such questions as the ways in which religion shapes family life and how families sustain—and change—religious institutions, which she describes as social locations for the production and transmission of religious familism or ideology about what constitutes a family and what a good family should be like. Edgell also asks a set of pertinent questions that seek to understand the fit—or lack of fit—between religion and the family today. This already complex topic is made ever more complex by the increasingly diverse and pluralistic character of modern society.

Guest critiques theories of transmission and reproduction of religion from Comte through Marx and Durkheim to contemporary sociologists of religion, including Berger, engaging as he does so with positivist and sociology of knowledge approaches to the question, among others. He also deals with the issues of transmission and reproduction in the context of secularization theory in its various guises and against the background of the McDonaldization of religion, one form of which, Guest maintains, is the Alpha Course. Guest further considers Hervieu-Léger's (2000 [1993]) views on the phenomenon of ‘cultural amnesia’, the effects of which gravely (p. 20) undermine the passing on of religious beliefs and values. Transmission and reproduction, as Guest points out, do not necessarily depend on the mainstream churches, which are increasingly less effective in this regard. The emergence of small-scale, alternative community structures (see Ammerman's contribution) could possibly, he suggests, perform the role of sustaining and passing on core values. Building on the thinking of Bourdieu, Guest offers the suggestion that a fruitful approach to understanding future processes of transmission and reproduction might come through adopting ‘a resource mobilization perspective’ which would focus on those resources associated with religion and pay less attention to factors such as institutions.

Ritual, with its expressive, performative, symbolic, and rational dimensions, has always been assumed to be a key element in the dynamic of transmission and reproduction of religion, and in his chapter on this topic Collins illustrates how it builds and consolidates Quaker community.

The mediation of religion in both the global and the local context is, as Hoover's presentation on the media points out, one of a number of emerging new research areas in media studies. Scholars are examining the representation of religions in various contexts, including the Internet and the Web, and how such mediation of religion might contribute to religious ferment. However, Hoover is keen to stress the serious shortcomings of a purely instrumentalist understanding of the relationship between the media and religion. Bunt's discussion of the Internet and religion emphasizes the capacity of the former to transform religion in the areas of representation and adherent networking as a proselytizing tool. This is happening to such an extent that some belief systems and practices may already be dependent on search engine ratings and placement ‘to acquire and maintain an impact or profile’. For this reason and others—motivations can vary—religious organizations are increasingly becoming keen media and service providers.

Fieldwork on religion in cyberspace poses its own particular difficulties, the most important of which are highlighted in Bunt's presentation which, like Hoover's, not only makes an important contribution to the debate on the transmission and reproduction of religion, but also complements Riis's and Jensen's chapters on method.

Part VIII: Religious Change: New Religions and New Spiritualities, Esotericism and Implicit Religion

One's sense of the level of impact made by New Religious Movements (NRMs) and New Spirituality Movements (NSMs) on contemporary thinking about and practice of religion and spirituality will differ depending on the angle from which one views (p. 21) them. Seen from the perspective of South Asia and parts of East Asia, it is clear that so called neo-Hindu movements and lay Buddhist movements have greatly influenced these regions (Clarke 2006).

NRMs and NSMs have also impacted on the study and teaching of Religion (Bromley 2007), and these are some of the issues addressed by Bromley in his contribution to the Handbook. Limiting himself to the West, Bromley traces the development of the emerging specialization of New Religious Studies (NRS), which offers a multi-disciplinary approach to the phenomenon of New Religion and Spirituality. One of the scholarly merits of this discipline, he maintains, is that it provides space in research and teaching for topics which have hitherto been marginalized, the focus having been on the more dominant forms of religion and spirituality.

The important question of the interaction between dominant forms of religion and spirituality and less dominant forms is one of the subjects addressed by Heelas and Woodhead (2005). And it is considered again by both Hamberg and Heelas in this Handbook. Hamberg questions the assumption that the present decline in church-based religion in Europe is part of a long-term process of decline. She also raises the question for further research of the extent to which the decline in standard religion has contributed to the growth of spirituality outside the churches, and the apparently problematic relationship of that spirituality to science. Overall, Hamberg is cautious in her conclusions regarding the relationship of church-based religion and spirituality, as well as on the question of the origins and strength of the social and cultural forces driving the phenomenon of unchurched spirituality. She also expresses methodological concerns relating to definition (see Droogers's chapter). These are but some of the issues to which research, Hamberg believes, needs to turn its attention in a more systematic and sustained manner.

Setting aside the discussion of the possibility of a causal relationship of whatever kind between secularization and the rise of unchurched spirituality, the contemporary interest and involvement in spiritualities of all kinds is indisputable and on such a scale as to prompt Heelas in his contribution to this Handbook to suggest that the Sociology of Religion be renamed the Sociology of Religion and Spirituality. This idea could find favour with, among others, Roof (1998), who points out that one of the weaknesses of the sociology of religion is that it suffers from an overly rationalized, narrowly defined, institutionalized conception of the religious. One might also add a criticism of sociology of religion's geographical narrowness whereby with some notable exceptions, including Hefner (1999) and Martin (1999), it has confined its focus to the West and then largely to one or two forms of Christianity in the West, while aiming to construct a set of general principles of religious behaviour.

Heelas in his discussion of ‘Spiritualities of Life’ is anxious, among other things, to counter the argument that present-day spirituality is simply a tool of consumer capitalism, pointing out that it is often bound up ‘with humanistic and expressivistic values’ such as equality and authenticity. Regarding the persistence of the Spiritualities of Life, Heelas, in contrast to Bruce (2002), is persuaded that the (p. 22) evidence of their continuing growth and their capacity to handle the dilemmas of contemporary life should assure Spiritualities of Life a ‘rosy future’. In relation to the type of analysis of the secularization process and its fundamental elements which Bruce's position seems to represent, it can be said that it hides a Weberian positivistic understanding of the relationship between religion and modernization and implies that what is said to be happening and/or to have happened in the West by way of the decline of religious influence over society and individual consciousness will almost inevitably be the case elsewhere. The contemporary global situation is, however, a much different environment in relation to the communication and transmission of religious ideas and practices, among others, than that of the modern world in which Weber attempted to assess the future of religion.

Among spiritual developments that overlap with Spiritualities of Life and are of growing interest is that of esotericism. Granholm's chapter on this topic is not limited to a discussion of its core elements, but also examines the changing relationship between esotericism and Christianity from the nineteenth century. Under the impact of secularization, this relationship changed from one in which esotericists identified themselves as Christians and made use of Christian symbolism and terminology to one in which many esotericists influenced by secular modes of thinking and eventually free to express themselves as they saw fit sought to expound their philosophy and beliefs in ‘scientific’ language, thus bringing to an end the idea of esotericism as ‘deviant’ knowledge.

The significance of implicit religion is another example of a topic that, while on the agenda since the late 1960s, has not so far been treated with any great seriousness by the sociology of religion. Yet, as Bailey contends in his contribution to this Handbook, without an understanding of the role of implicit religion, it is impossible to understand people's secular lives. In his historical overview of the development of the concept and its meaning, he also indicates how implicit religion overlaps with and differs from spirituality. In addition, Bailey points to its relevance to questions concerning group solidarities, organizational institutions, and ritual behaviour, among others.

Part IX: Religion and Ecology, Health, Social Issues, and Violence

The environmental crisis, perhaps more than any other concern of contemporary society, is turning attention to religion not primarily as a means of salvation in a transcendental, other-worldly sphere, but increasingly, as Tucker points out in her chapter, as the provider of ‘a broad road to the cosmos and human roles in it’.

(p. 23) The role of religion in relation to the environmental crisis remains highly controversial, several religions endorsing an exclusively anthropocentric view of moral rights and obligations, while others uphold beliefs which are seen as undermining attempts to control the world's population, whose present rate of increase is believed to be detrimental to the survival of the planet. Aware of these difficulties, Tucker in her contribution in part circumvents them by considering religions in broader terms than the institutional and denominational forms they take. They are for her purposes world views which, despite the problems associated with some of their teachings on such matters as domination of nature by humans and certain kinds of birth control, can help to construct a much needed global ethical perspective in relation to environmental issues and help inculcate qualities such as truth telling, trust, and visioning that are indispensable to ecological sustainability.

The relationship between religion, spirituality, and health is addressed by Cadge in her presentation from an institutional perspective. She adopts this standpoint principally for the reason that, as she points out, most research on this relationship ignores the institutional aspects of health provision and care. From a sociological perspective this is self-defeating, Cadge argues, for if research agendas included institutional dimensions, they could greatly enhance our knowledge of the specific relationship in itself and at the same time provide an appropriate contextual frame for discussing and debating a host of other issues relating religion, spirituality, and health, such as health-care workers' religious and moral obligations, spiritually oriented alternative medical approaches, and spiritual and medical intervention at the end of life.

Johnson's presentation focuses on the relationship between religion and delinquency and finds that religious commitment helps protect youth, whatever their socio-economic conditions, from delinquent behaviour and deviant activities, including the use of illegal drugs. There is also a more constructive side to the relationship between religion and behaviour, in the sense that religious belief and practice not only protect against delinquent behaviour but, according to Johnson's findings, also foster positive and/or normative behaviour.

Inaba and Loewenthal explore the relationship between religion and altruism, a research concern identified and pursued by classical sociologists including Max Weber, and one of interest and concern today, especially in societies where the building of social capital encounters serious obstacles. Inaba and Loewenthal point out that while early research was rather muddled about the correlation between religion and altruism, research since the 1980s is less ambiguous in suggesting that religion is likely to play a causal role in promoting altruism.

More time has been spent on discussing the correlation between religion and violence than on any other aspect of religion since 9/11. This was doubtless a defining moment in modern thinking about religion. Prior to 9/11, many were reluctant to believe that there were any close links between religion and violence (see Bruce 1986 on the conflict in Northern Ireland). The violence of 9/11 challenged that certainty. And while politicians and religious leaders are inclined to (p. 24) emphasize that good religion is moderate and peaceful, some researchers think differently. While Juergensmeyer is anxious to stress that religions are not only about violence, he nonetheless in his discussion of the concept of cosmic war argues that religion is driven by a fundamental impulse in the form of a quest for order, and from this starting point it introduces the concept and reality of violence as the pathway to harmony and peace.

Kirwan frames his analysis of religion and violence with special reference to modern martyrdom in terms of a critique of Girard's theory of religion and violence which speaks of the annulment of the violent sacred. Kirwan sees this account which is robustly Christian as being highly problematic for many in a religiously pluralistic society. However, it is Kirwan's view that, if understood correctly, the Girardian idea of religion and the annulment of violence need not offend non-Christians. From this starting point he introduces an interesting discussion of ways in which militant jihad and shahid or Islamic martyrdom may possibly be interpreted in a way similar to the Girardian intepretation that speaks of the ‘abrogation’ of the false and violent sacred. This is not simply wishful thinking, for Islam is not as bereft of hermeneutical tools as is widely thought.

While the relationship between religion and social issues has begun to attract a good deal of interest from researchers in recent years, it is without much theoretical guidance in the way of social problem theory. This is a gap that Hjelm's contribution attempts to fill. His presentation focuses the following issues: on social problems as a claims-making activity, on how religions construct solutions to social problems, on how religion itself is constructed as a social problem, and on how this impacts on the way religion is perceived.

While Pessi's contribution covers some of the same ground as Hjelm's, it is essentially an empirically based discussion of the topic of religion and social issues. She offers several interesting critiques of empirical research on this relationship between religion and social problems in Europe and in particular in Finland. Like Hjelm, she poses a number of important questions for religions, including that of how they may come over time to be perceived as social welfare institutions rather than bearers of a transcendental message. Pessi argues that religions that seek to resolve social problems come to be perceived as providing ‘institutions of authenticity’ in the sense of providing those meaningful horizons that individual choice always requires.

Part X: Teaching the Sociology of Religion

Increasing religious pluralism clearly impacts directly on the teaching of the sociology of religion, and with this in mind Nesbitt looks at the contexts in (p. 25) which religion is taught, including Sunday school, state school, university, and so on—each one making its own demands and raising its own questions. She also identifies the variety of types of teacher of religion—for example, the insider and the outsider to the faith community in question, the salaried school teacher, and the volunteer Sunday school teacher. In Nesbitt's view one of the more important demands that modern, ethnically diverse, religiously pluralistic society makes of teachers is that they acquire ethnographic skills. If they fail to do so, she argues, they will not adequately recognize and appreciate diversity, and as a result will be unable to engage in citizenship education, which is integral to the role of the teacher of religion, at least in the United Kingdom. To be ethnographically aware is to make explicit to oneself what one's view of religion is, and this will involve as a consequence, Nesbitt contends, challenging the taken-for-granted equation of religion with belief and practice. The teacher of religion's task extends not only to acquiring ethnographic skills for the better performance of their own role but also training students in ethnography, seeing in them potential co-ethnographers.

Spickard takes up the topic of teacher- or student-centred teaching in the context of American tertiary education. He begins with an account of the sea-change in ethnography during the past thirty years which began by questioning the quality and value of teacher-directed education and went on to suggest that a student-centred approach to learning was the more effective in training people to reflect, analyse, and internalize knowledge. It was also seen as a more effective means of transmitting knowledge. Not all institutions of higher education favour this kind of equality approach in teaching and research, and the result is a bimodal system of learning. The situation in the churches regarding the transmission of religious faith and practice, as Spickard points out, is also bimodal, some institutions favouring a top-down clergy-directed approach, while others are disposed to follow the participant-centred approach which makes a fit with the voluntarism which now characterizes the approach of increasing numbers of believers to religious beliefs and practice.

The Handbook, then, has been about creating new insights and breaking boundaries in the sociology of religion. Its intention has also been to encourage further debate about the methods, theoretical orientations, teaching, and objectives of the discipline of the sociology of religion. In looking forward, the past has not been neglected. Moreover, some of the major issues which it has addressed historically, including the new forms that some of these issues, such as secularization, religious pluralism, social integration and harmony, and religious violence, have been revisited, with creativity and insight.


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