Religion in the Contemporary WorldA Sociological Introduction
In the new edition of this widely praised text, Alan Aldridge examines the complex realities of religious belief, practice and institutions. Religion is a powerful and controversial force in the contemporary world, even in supposedly secular societies. Almost all societies seek to cultivate religions and faith communities as sources of social stability and engines of social progress. They also try to combat real and imagined abuses and excess, regulating cults that brainwash vulnerable people, containing fundamentalism that threatens democracy and the progress of science, and identifying terrorists who threaten atrocities in the name of religion. The third edition has been carefully revised to make sure it is fully up to date with recent developments and debates. Major themes in the revised edition include the recently erupted ‘culture war’ between progressive secularists and conservative believers, the diverse manifestations of ‘fundamentalism’ and their impact on the wider society, new individual forms of religious expression in opposition to traditional structures of authority, and the backlash against ‘multiculturalism’ with its controversial implications for the social integration of ethnic and religious minority communities. Impressive in its scholarly analysis of a vibrant and challenging aspect of human societies, the third edition will appeal strongly to students taking courses in the sociology of religion and religious studies, as well as to everyone interested in the place of religion in the contemporary world.
Preface to the Third Edition viii Acknowledgements x 1 Defining Religion: Social Confl icts and Sociological Debates 1 Scientology: authentic religion or imposture? 3 Baha'i: world faith or apostasy? 7 Religion and the state 8 Advantages of being recognized as a religion 13 Disadvantages of status as a religion 17 Defining people as religious 20 Max Weber: on not defining religion 22 Émile Durkheim: defining religion sociologically 24 Contemporary sociological definitions of religion 26 A Wittgensteinian approach 30 Further reading 34 2 Secularization: The Social Insignifi cance of Religion? 35 Karl Marx and the projection theory of religion 35 Émile Durkheim and the social functions of religion 38 Max Weber and the disenchantment of the world 41 Defining secularization 49 Secularization from within 50 Decline of community 52 Marginalization of charisma 54 Cultural amnesia 56 Pluralization, relativism and consumer choice 57 Reason, rationality and science 59 A consensus on dystopia? 64 Further reading 64 3 Secularization Challenged: A New Paradigm? 66 A secularization theorist recants 66 A new paradigm 67 Voluntarism according to Talcott Parsons 69 The demand for religion: a rational choice? 73 The supply of religion: the benefi ts of competition? 75 Strict churches and free-riders 80 The Mormons: a new world faith? 83 Jehovah's Witnesses: overcoming the failure of prophecy 88 The new paradigm and the rise of the megachurches 91 The Pentecostals 93 Further reading 95 4 Dangerous Religions? Sects, Cults and Brainwashing 97 Classifying Christian movements 97 New religious movements 101 Dynamics of change 107 The rise of 'brainwashing' 115 Identifying potentially destructive movements 119 The fall of 'brainwashing' 126 Further reading 129 5 Dangerous Religions? Fundamentalism 131 Bible believers 132 Fundamentalism and monotheism 134 Features of fundamentalism 138 Islamophobia 142 Further reading 147 6 Civil Religion and Political Ritual 148 Ritual and social integration: the legacy of Durkheim 148 'In God We Trust': civil religion in the United States 149 The European Union: symbols of an unfi nished project 154 Symbolic division in society: the peace process in Northern Ireland 155 Political religion in an atheist society: the Soviet Union 157 Political religion and charismatic leadership: Nazi Germany 161 Character and society 163 Further reading 164 7 Gender and Sexuality 165 The subordination of women 165 Reclaiming the symbols of subordination 171 Gender-blind religions? 174 Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) identities 177 Further reading 179 8 The Spiritual Revolution 181 Georg Simmel: an alternative classical view 181 Believing without belonging 183 From religion to spirituality? 186 A new age? 191 Pagans 193 Religion online and online religion 195 Individualism and the crisis of religious authority 197 Religion in consumer society 203 Lived religion and sociological analysis 205 Further reading 206 9 The Challenge of Diversity 208 The debate about multiculturalism 208 French culture and the veiling of women 210 A clash of civilizations? 212 The challenge of diversity 214 Grassroots responses to diversity 220 Afterword: a culture war? 224 Further reading 226 References 227 Index 247
‘The new edition of Religion in the Contemporary World is a timely guide to the social significance of religion. It is comprehensive, clear and convincing. Alan Aldridge is to be congratulated for writing such a well informed and readable account of both the routine and the eye-catching aspects of religion in various regions of the world. From “cults” to civil religion, from secularization to state control, and from diversity to identity, the analysis of arguments and examples is challenging and shrewd. This is the sociology of religion at its best.’ James A. Beckford, University of Warwick ‘Aldridge provides an insightful and thoughtfully engaged discussion of the many varieties of religion in contemporary society. His smooth narrative and timely examples make religion come alive on the page and illuminate why it continues to be such a significant social force.’ Michele Dillon, University of New Hampshire "This is a well-written and concise book and a thoughtful insight about the meaning and purpose of religion and religious belief for a contemporaneous and social society. This would be an important read for students and scholars interested in the sociological narrative and should certainly be a primary source of reference for those interested in why religion continues to hold its persuasive force." Benjamin Bury, Birmingham
Alan Aldridge is former reader in the sociology of culture at the University of Nottingham.
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