We do not often reflect extensively on the nature of authority in the modern world; at least, we do not entertain public discourse about it. We cede authority to people all the time, however, and with alarming frequency in consumer environments or business settings. In most cases, we cede it to individuals who, or institutions which, are expert in a subject or topic; we also cede it to corporations which specialize in a certain kind of product, and who have a reputation for excellence in it.
We might leave matters on that meritocratic note, and banish further questions about authority from our mind. More than this could be quite disruptive. After all, there cannot be any institutional life without order, and there is no order without some kind of authority — but that should not stop us from seeking authority’s proper grounds, especially in a liberal environment where we are expected to be sufficiently cultured to have mature consciences which can responsibly dissent, on the basis of a higher principle, from the authorities who govern, or from the proposals of our fellow citizens. Finally, this should also extend into religious life and institutions.
While the following cannot claim comprehensiveness, it certainly aims at addressing universal concerns. Continue reading
Religion and Modernization: Sociologists and Historians Debate the Secularization Thesis (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992) ed. by Steve Bruce (photo above), is a collection of nine essays written by nine authors on the exact topic suggested by the volume’s title. After a short introduction by Bruce, the first full essay by Roy Wallis and Steve Bruce “outlin[es] the main elements” of “the ‘secularization’ thesis” (3) mentioned in the book’s title, which thesis is “one of sociology’s most enduring research programmes” (8). In the introduction, Bruce had mentioned that secularization is descriptive, rather than prescriptive, so that it
primarily refers to the beliefs of people. The core of what we mean when we talk about this society being more ‘secular’ than that is that the lives of fewer people in the former than in the latter are influenced by religious beliefs. […] (6)
If this phrase about “the beliefs of people” make it sound as though Wallis & Bruce are interested in individuals, the authors are quick to clarify that the theory they are advancing is really about “the diminishing social significance of religion”. This is not the same as “the decline of religion”, only of its “public role” (10). It is also certainly not an “even and irreversible decline” (27). Wallis & Bruce together reiterate that the “explanatory model” attached to this secularization thesis predicts that
the social significance of religion diminishes in response to the operation of three salient features of modernization
[…] (1) social differentiation, (2) societalization, and (3) rationalization. (8-9)
So that, in sum,
modernization […] brings in its wake (and may itself be accelerated by) ‘the diminution of the social significance of religion’. What features of modernization are involved? There seem to be three that are particularly salient: social differentiation, societalization and rationalization. (11)
Before examining these three features (social differentiation, &c.), we should ask: what is “religion”, such that secularization is the loss or diminution of the large-scale social influence of it? Continue reading