Putting baby back in the bath:theorising modernity for the contemporary sociology of religion

Dawson, Andrew (2014) Putting baby back in the bath:theorising modernity for the contemporary sociology of religion. In: Sociological theory and the question of religion. Ashgate, London, pp. 151-179. ISBN 9781409465522

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This chapter addresses the theoretical viability of ‘modernity’ for the contemporary sociology of religion. It opens by identifying a number of approaches which, in combination, problematise established representations of modernity (by classical modernisation theory) as comprising an ahistorical evolutionary model which is both overly homogenising and ideologically biased. It is then argued that many of the contemporary problematisations of modernity currently fashionable among sociologists of religion (exemplified here by the multiple modernities paradigm) have actually swapped one faulty theoretical model (‘uncritical universalism’) for another (‘granular provincialism’). As employed by sociologists of religion, the faulty model of granular provincialism manifests through both an analytical preoccupation with regional particularity and a conceptual disregard for broader questions of a cross-cultural and meta-theoretical nature. Believing this faulty model to have thrown out the ‘baby’ of modernity with the ‘bathwater’ of traditional modernization theory, the remainder of the chapter explicates an approach by which this lopsided focus upon the local and its attendant neglect of overarching transnational dynamics might begin to be corrected. In so doing, this chapter argues that an understanding of modernity of use to the sociology of religion must be both analytically robust (in respect of the defining features of modernity) and hermeneutically nuanced (vis-à-vis local instantiations of typically modern dynamics and processes). Constituted through analytical abstraction from empirically observable processes, the conceptualisation of modernity proposed here comprises a historically novel social formation and existentially distinct mode of being in the world formed by the ongoing and transformative interaction of a range of dynamics, structures and processes (e.g. nation state, market economy, rapid, widespread and ongoing transformation, structural differentiation, detraditionalization, socio-cultural pluralization, individualization and globalization) which manifest concretely through regional/local instantiations of a macro-structural, mid-range institutional and micro-social nature. Though of a formal kind, the theorisation of modernity undertaken by this chapter is intended to provoke further debate as to the analytical frame and hermeneutical approach best suited to the sociological study of contemporary religious belief and ritual practice.

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24 Oct 2014 12:18
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12 Sep 2023 01:52