Religious Movements and Their Effect on the Secularization Thesis

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  • Topic: Religion, Sociology of religion, Secularization
  • Pages : 11 (3570 words )
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  • Published : November 13, 2008
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Critically assess the claim that New Religious Movements represent a challenge to the secularization thesis

The dramatic global resurgence of religious movements over the last decade has caught many people by surprise. To most, such a resurgence came as a surprise since according to modernization myth, religion was supposed to be headed towards a continuous path of secularization and privatization. Indeed, this myth presented us with several options for the fate of religion in the modern world, but neither a return of religion as a public force, nor its ability to shape people according to its own ethos and instil into them a new habitus was among them. Very few people expected religion to disappear completely, assigning religion to a legitimate space in the private sphere and that religious institutions would undergo a process of internal secularization and would increasingly adapt to the requirements’ of modern structures while maintaining their religious symbolism. Some imagined that national ideologies or civil religions would replace religious traditions , or expected religious values to permeate modern societies leaving behind the tradition forms of religion. But few were prepared for the global resurgence of religions as public forces and powerful shapers of religious subjects. In light of this dramatic resurgence of New Religious Movements, this essay will attempt to analyse whether these movements represent a challenge to the secularization thesis, or whether they are in fact evidence of the marginalization of religion from the centre of modernized society. Bryan Wilson (1991) contends that the secularization process now gone so far, that it is virtually unstoppable. He argues that rather than being evidence of the resurgence of religion, they are actually evidence of secularization. New Religious Movements should not be regarded as revivals of a tradition, but rather: They are more accurately regarded as adaptations of religion to new social circumstances. Not one them is capable, given the radical nature of social change, of recreating the dying religions of the past. In their style and in their specific appeal they represent an accommodation to new conditions, and they incorporate many of the assumptions and facilities encouraged in the increasingly secular sphere. Thus it is that many new movements are themselves testimonies to secularization: they often utilise highly secular methods in evangelism, financing, publicity and mobilisation of adherents. Very commonly, the traditional; symbolism, liturgy and aesthetic concern of traditional religion are abandoned for much more pragmatic attitudes and for systems of control, propaganda and even doctrinal consent which are closer to styles of secular enterprise than to traditional religious concerns. New Religious Movements, according to Wilson indicate the extent to which religion has become inconsequential for modern society. Modern society is dominated by impersonal bureaucratic models of social control; consequently “charismatic leadership persists only in the interstices between institutional orders, in the narrow space that remains for collective behaviour, spontaneous faith, and unconstrained obedience and adulation . Religion, according to this perspective, has been reduced to an exotic consumer item and an adornment of personal style. Spiritual shoppers choose from a variegated and provocatively packaged array of spiritual products; but one’s personal consumption choice “has no real consequence for other social institutions, for political power structures, for technological constraints and controls”. The new movements, thus “add nothing to any prospective reintegration of society, and contribute nothing towards the culture by which a society might live” . The modern world has spawned “a supermarket of faiths; received, jazzed up, homespun, restored, imported and exotic. But all of them co-exist only because the wider society is so...
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