Six Narratives in Search of a Future: Current 'Theory' in the Sociology of Religion

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 17:45
Location: Hörsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
James SPICKARD, University of Redlands, USA
The sociology of religion has long been ruled by six competing narratives.  I use this term to note that these narratives are built from stories more than from evidence, though a few claim ‘paradigmatic’ status in an attempt to seem more intellectually secure than they are.  According to these stories, religion in the contemporary world is either disappearing, resurging, individualizing, creating local communities, shaped by markets, or going global.  The first two of these stories were baked into sociology from its beginning as an intellectual discipline.  Nineteenth century sociology saw religion as its ideological ‘other’, so relegated it to the unscientific past.  Both secularization theory and theories of resurgent conservative religion share this view, by equating the binaries science/religion and modern/pre-modern.  The individualism and local-community narratives both proclaim the growing irrelevance of national and international religious organizations.  The first portrays religion as an increasingly individual matter, while the second sees local religious communities as among the few remaining sources of social solidarity in an increasingly massified world.  Market models of religion (frequently based in rational-choice theories of individual action) parallel neo-liberal worship of free markets.  They typically move from the insight that religious organizations exist in markets to claims that market structure determines everything of consequence about religions.  Finally, globalization theories (of which there are several) emphasize either the transnational spread of ideas about religion, the increasing role of transnational immigration in religious diversity, or the growing transnational reach of religious organizations.  So far, none is able to integrate these three aspects of globalization into a coherent whole.  This presentation summarizes these six narratives, emphasizing what each is unable to see in the current religious landscape.