The rapid changes that took place in the last decades of the 20th century had a deep impact on the religious landscape as well. The new phenomena present a double challenge to the sociology of religion: on the one hand, it has to review, refine and reinterpret the classical statements in order to assess their validity in contemporary society. On the other hand, it has to relate the changes in the religious situation to the overall transformations of society.It was developed the fundamental categorical system for the sociological study of religion, and the system of categories elaborated by them constitutes the basic discourse in sociology of religion. However, these are increasingly becoming the subject of critical considerations. The main thrust of the critique is that the classical discourse represents a Western, Eurocentric bias, therefore cannot take into consideration the social, cultural and religious dynamics of non-Western societies. The secularization theory (and amongst the contemporary theories the rational choice theory of religion) are in the crossfire of critics. Even the critics operate with the same concepts as the classic theorists, at best there are efforts to reinterpret their content or demonstrate their restricted validity.
[...] The Rational Choice Theory in Sociology of Religion Rational choice theory makes inroads in sociology of religion as well. It is considered by many as a new paradigm that is capable to construct an empirically grounded general theory of religion. However, as many critics remarked, rational choice theory in general as well as in sociology of religion assumes that “people approach all actions in the same way, evaluating all costs and benefits and acting so as to maximize their net benefits. [...]
[...] It would, however, be much too simplistic to focus exclusively on the marketplace in analyzing the consequences of pluralism brought about by modernity. The limits of choice are often not recognized, and the individual frequently does not realize that he or she has to bear the onus of the consequences of a given choice. Nevertheless, there is a vast array of choices competing with one another. As a consequence, modern/postmodern identity becomes fluid, open-ended, incommensurably more than in earlier phases of modernity. [...]
[...] These considerations could not give full justice to the developments in contemporary religion or to the later efforts and achievements of sociology of religion. For instance I could not discuss feminist theories and critiques, not because I would not find them worthwhile for a critical review and analysis. Spatial restrictions would have allowed only a superficial review, the more so because those critiques are intrinsically related to feminist theological theories. Such a discussion, however, would have required a lengthy essay. [...]
[...] The spread of New Religious Movements and New Age movements, the persistence of popular religion in many parts of the world, preoccupation with the self leading to the increasing interest in spirituality these are all signs that the modern rationality, the ‘disenchantment' are not dominant features of the postmodern consciousness. It was noted that representative of postmodern philosophy, has this to say about the above mentioned phenomenon: the return of religion, very manifest in the common culture (as a demand, the new vitality of the churches and sects, as a search for parallel doctrines and practices: the fashion of the oriental religions, etc.), is basically motivated by the threat of certain general risks that seems to be new and without precedent in the history of humanity. [...]
[...] Even such a fragmentary review reveals that, in spite of conceptual disagreements amongst contemporary sociologists of religion concerning the problem of secularization and rationalization in modernity, there is a largely shared opinion that the classics of sociology of religion envisioned rather a linear development. However, in post-modernity the rationality of the social is questioned, not only by theoreticians but also perhaps even first and foremost by an increasing number of people. It is therefore not surprising that in the quest for values and spirituality, often as protest against the postmodern conditions of life and as an expression of dissatisfaction with the practice and doctrines of the established churches and mainline denominations, and with the availability of alternative sources of values and perspectives, an increasing number of people turn to new forms for realizing their emotional and spiritual needs. [...]
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