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Religion, Renewal and 
Change 
Theories challenging Secularisation: 
Postmodernity
Postmodernity 
 Postmodenists argue that religion is not 
declining, but merely changing as society 
develops.
Believing without 
Belonging 
 Davie says that religion is taking a different, 
more privatised form; it is not declining. 
Church attendance is now a personal 
choice instead of an obligation so we can 
believe without belonging. Thus, the decline 
of traditional religion is matched by the 
growth of a new form of religion.
Vicarious Religion 
 Davie notes a trend of a small number of 
professional clergy practicing religion on 
behalf of a much larger number of people 
who experience it second hand. 
 Reginald Bibby found 25% of Canadians 
went to church regularly, but 80% claimed 
to have religious beliefs, identified positively 
with tradition and turned to religion for rites 
of passage (weddings etc.). They seldom 
went to church, but took an interest in the 
supernatural.
Vicarious Religion 
 Davie compares vicarious religion to the tip of an 
iceberg. Beneath what appears to be only small is 
actually a wide commitment. People are drawn to 
church at times of national and personal tragedy as it 
provides ritual and support. 
 She says secularisation theory assumes modernisation 
effects every society in the same way, resulting in 
rationalisation. However, there are ‘multiple 
modernities’ (not a single version of modern society). 
Instead, religion and science will continue to co-exist.
Criticisms 
 Voas and Crockett say both church 
attendance and belief are declining, so if 
we believe but not belong, the latter (belief) 
should be increasing. 
 Bruce says if people are not willing to invest 
their time going to church, their beliefs can’t 
be that strong.
Spiritual Shopping 
 Hervieu-Leger says there has been a dramatic decline 
in institutional religion. She believes this is partly due to 
‘cultural amnesia’. We have lost the religion that was 
handed down generations; parents let their children 
decide their own beliefs now. Also, the trend towards 
social equality has undermined the traditional power 
of the church to impose religion on people. Young 
people no longer inherit a fixed religious identity so 
they ignore traditional religion. 
 But, she notes religion hasn’t disappeared. Individual 
consumerism has been replaced collective tradition. 
We are ‘spiritual shoppers’.
Spiritual Shopping 
 We have developed ‘DIY’ beliefs that give 
meaning to our lives and fit in with out 
interests and aspirations. Religion is thus a 
spiritual journey in which we choose the 
elements to explore.
Two New Types… 
 Pilgrims  follow an individual path in a 
search for self-discovery. 
 Converts  join religious groups that offer a 
strong sense of belonging.
As a Result… 
 Religion is no longer the source of collective 
identity. However, Hervieu-Leger notes it 
does have some influence on society’s 
values – such can be a source of shared 
cultural diversity and social solidarity, even 
for those who aren’t actively religious. 
 (Her views can be related to the idea of late 
modernity – more on this in Chapter 4, Topic 
5)
‘Jesus in Disneyland’ 
 Lyon argues that traditional religion is giving 
way to a variety of new religions that 
demonstrate its continuing vigour. He says 
postmodern society has a number of 
features which are changing the nature of 
religion… 
 The Relocation of Religion 
 Religious Consumerism 
 Re-enchantment of the World
The Relocation of 
Religion 
 Globalisation has led greatly to increased movements 
of ideas and beliefs across national boundaries. This is 
due to the central role played in postmodern society 
by the media and IT which saturate us with images 
and news from around the globe. Therefore, we have 
instantaneous access to the ideas and beliefs of 
previously remote religions. These ideas have become 
‘disembedded’ – the media have lifted them out of 
their original context and put them in a different place 
and time.
The Relocation of 
Religion 
 An example of this is the ‘electronic church’ 
 televangelism means people can express 
their beliefs without physically going to 
church. 
 So, religion becomes de-industrialised. 
Religious signs and images become 
detached from their place in religious 
institutions and into technology.
Religious Consumerism 
 We can pick and mix elements of different 
faiths to construct our identity. Lyon says 
religion has relocated to the ‘sphere of 
consumption’. Religion hasn’t been 
abandoned – we have become ‘religious 
consumers’ making conscious choices 
about which elements of religion we find 
useful.
Supporting Study… 
 In her study of American Christian 
Fundamentalists, Ammerman found they 
made use of a number of churches without 
giving strong loyalty to any one of them. 
 For individual religion, Bellah gives the 
example of ‘Sheilaism’. When interviewed, 
Sheila explained how she has her own 
beliefs but she doesn’t practice.
Religious Consumerism 
 One effect of having a great variety of 
religious products to choose from is loss of 
faith in ‘meta-narratives’ – theories or 
worldviews that claim to have the absolute 
truth. The wide range of beliefs weaken the 
traditional claims so previously dominant 
religions lose their authority and decline. 
 So, many new ones spring up for us to 
‘sample’
Re-enchantment of the 
World 
 Lyon says secularisation theory assumes 
religion Is declining and bing replaced by 
rational explanations. He sees the previous 
decade as a period of re-enchantment with 
the growth of unconventional beliefs, 
practices and spirituality. Although 
traditional forms have declines, there is a 
growing vitality of non-traditional religion in 
the West and its resurgence elsewhere in the 
world.
Criticisms 
 Research shows people choose to view 
programmes that confirm their existing 
beliefs. Religious media doesn’t attract 
many new converts. 
 Lyons criticisms of secularisation theory 
aren’t based on extensive evidence – does 
the ‘electronic church’ exist? 
 Bruce argues the consumerist religion Lyon 
describes is a weak religion – it isn’t 
evidence for the continuing vitality of 
religion.

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Postmodernity

  • 1. Religion, Renewal and Change Theories challenging Secularisation: Postmodernity
  • 2. Postmodernity  Postmodenists argue that religion is not declining, but merely changing as society develops.
  • 3. Believing without Belonging  Davie says that religion is taking a different, more privatised form; it is not declining. Church attendance is now a personal choice instead of an obligation so we can believe without belonging. Thus, the decline of traditional religion is matched by the growth of a new form of religion.
  • 4. Vicarious Religion  Davie notes a trend of a small number of professional clergy practicing religion on behalf of a much larger number of people who experience it second hand.  Reginald Bibby found 25% of Canadians went to church regularly, but 80% claimed to have religious beliefs, identified positively with tradition and turned to religion for rites of passage (weddings etc.). They seldom went to church, but took an interest in the supernatural.
  • 5. Vicarious Religion  Davie compares vicarious religion to the tip of an iceberg. Beneath what appears to be only small is actually a wide commitment. People are drawn to church at times of national and personal tragedy as it provides ritual and support.  She says secularisation theory assumes modernisation effects every society in the same way, resulting in rationalisation. However, there are ‘multiple modernities’ (not a single version of modern society). Instead, religion and science will continue to co-exist.
  • 6. Criticisms  Voas and Crockett say both church attendance and belief are declining, so if we believe but not belong, the latter (belief) should be increasing.  Bruce says if people are not willing to invest their time going to church, their beliefs can’t be that strong.
  • 7. Spiritual Shopping  Hervieu-Leger says there has been a dramatic decline in institutional religion. She believes this is partly due to ‘cultural amnesia’. We have lost the religion that was handed down generations; parents let their children decide their own beliefs now. Also, the trend towards social equality has undermined the traditional power of the church to impose religion on people. Young people no longer inherit a fixed religious identity so they ignore traditional religion.  But, she notes religion hasn’t disappeared. Individual consumerism has been replaced collective tradition. We are ‘spiritual shoppers’.
  • 8. Spiritual Shopping  We have developed ‘DIY’ beliefs that give meaning to our lives and fit in with out interests and aspirations. Religion is thus a spiritual journey in which we choose the elements to explore.
  • 9. Two New Types…  Pilgrims  follow an individual path in a search for self-discovery.  Converts  join religious groups that offer a strong sense of belonging.
  • 10. As a Result…  Religion is no longer the source of collective identity. However, Hervieu-Leger notes it does have some influence on society’s values – such can be a source of shared cultural diversity and social solidarity, even for those who aren’t actively religious.  (Her views can be related to the idea of late modernity – more on this in Chapter 4, Topic 5)
  • 11. ‘Jesus in Disneyland’  Lyon argues that traditional religion is giving way to a variety of new religions that demonstrate its continuing vigour. He says postmodern society has a number of features which are changing the nature of religion…  The Relocation of Religion  Religious Consumerism  Re-enchantment of the World
  • 12. The Relocation of Religion  Globalisation has led greatly to increased movements of ideas and beliefs across national boundaries. This is due to the central role played in postmodern society by the media and IT which saturate us with images and news from around the globe. Therefore, we have instantaneous access to the ideas and beliefs of previously remote religions. These ideas have become ‘disembedded’ – the media have lifted them out of their original context and put them in a different place and time.
  • 13. The Relocation of Religion  An example of this is the ‘electronic church’  televangelism means people can express their beliefs without physically going to church.  So, religion becomes de-industrialised. Religious signs and images become detached from their place in religious institutions and into technology.
  • 14. Religious Consumerism  We can pick and mix elements of different faiths to construct our identity. Lyon says religion has relocated to the ‘sphere of consumption’. Religion hasn’t been abandoned – we have become ‘religious consumers’ making conscious choices about which elements of religion we find useful.
  • 15. Supporting Study…  In her study of American Christian Fundamentalists, Ammerman found they made use of a number of churches without giving strong loyalty to any one of them.  For individual religion, Bellah gives the example of ‘Sheilaism’. When interviewed, Sheila explained how she has her own beliefs but she doesn’t practice.
  • 16. Religious Consumerism  One effect of having a great variety of religious products to choose from is loss of faith in ‘meta-narratives’ – theories or worldviews that claim to have the absolute truth. The wide range of beliefs weaken the traditional claims so previously dominant religions lose their authority and decline.  So, many new ones spring up for us to ‘sample’
  • 17. Re-enchantment of the World  Lyon says secularisation theory assumes religion Is declining and bing replaced by rational explanations. He sees the previous decade as a period of re-enchantment with the growth of unconventional beliefs, practices and spirituality. Although traditional forms have declines, there is a growing vitality of non-traditional religion in the West and its resurgence elsewhere in the world.
  • 18. Criticisms  Research shows people choose to view programmes that confirm their existing beliefs. Religious media doesn’t attract many new converts.  Lyons criticisms of secularisation theory aren’t based on extensive evidence – does the ‘electronic church’ exist?  Bruce argues the consumerist religion Lyon describes is a weak religion – it isn’t evidence for the continuing vitality of religion.