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In other words, in modern societies there is neither a steady one-way process of secularization nor a religious revitalization, but a growing diversity of belief systems and practices. The practice of religion in Canada is ever changing and has recently become increasingly diverse.

Religious diversity can be defined as a condition in which a multiplicity of religions and faiths co-exist in a given society Robinson, Because of religious diversity, many speculate that Canada is turning into a Post-Christian society , in the sense that Christianity has increasingly become just one among many religious beliefs, including the beliefs of a large number of people who claim no religion.

For those who report having a Christian heritage, only a minority can articulate the basic elements of Christian doctrine or read the bible on a regular basis. To an ever greater extent, Christianity no longer provides the basic moral foundation for Canadian values and practices. Canada appears to moving towards a much more religiously plural society. This is not without its problems however. Religious diversity in Canada has accelerated in the last twenty years due to globalization and immigration. There were only a handful of members from the other main world religions. Other religions during this time such as Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus only made up a negligible percentage of the population.

With the opening up of immigration to non-Europeans in the s, this began to change. In the 21st century, religion in Canada has become increasingly diverse. Including the various Protestant denominations Statistics Canada surveyed 80 different religious groups in Canada in Statistics Canada, Religious diversity does not only include the increased number of people who participate in non-Christian religions.

During its first appearance, approximately four percent of the population in Canada identified as religiously unaffiliated. By , that number had increased nearly a quarter, rising to about 24 percent Pew Research Center, Canadians have had varying responses to religious diversity. On an individual level, while many accept religious beliefs other than their own, others do not. Individuals are either open to embracing these differences or intolerant of the varying viewpoints surrounding them. Wuthnow describes three types of individual response to religious diversity. Firstly there are those who fully embrace the religious practices of others, to the point of creating hybrid beliefs and practices.

Christians might practice yoga or Eastern meditation techniques, for example. Secondly, there are those who tolerate other religions or accept the value of other religious beliefs while maintaining religious distinctions intact. This can manifest in the range of negative individual responses to Muslim women who wear a hijab or headscarf for example.

On a societal level, there are three main types of social response to religious diversity: exclusion, assimilation and pluralism. Exclusion occurs when the majority population does not accept varying or non-traditional beliefs, and therefore believe that other religions should be denied entry into their society. The exclusionary response tends to happen when a society that identifies with a previously homogeneous faith community is confronted with the spread of religious diversity. On the other hand, the Canadian policy towards Jews was exclusionary until relatively recently.

Universities like McGill and the University of Toronto had quota systems that restricted the number of Jewish students until the s. Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in the s were brutally turned away by Canadian officials. A step beyond exclusion is assimilation. An example of assimilation in Canada is the history of Aboriginal spiritual practices like the sun dance, spirit dance and sweat lodge ceremonies. Between and midth century these practices were outlawed and suppressed by both the Canadian state and Church organizations. They were seen as counter to the project of assimilating First Nations people into Christian European society and a settled, agricultural way of life Waldram, Herring and Young, In and , first a pass system and then an outright ban on leaving reserves were imposed on Plains Indian people to prevent them from congregating for Sun Dances, where they sought to honour the Great Spirit and renew their communities.

The most accommodating response to religious diversity is pluralism. Pluralism is the idea that every religious practice is welcome in a society regardless of how divergent its beliefs or social norms are. This response leads to a society in which religious diversity is fully accepted Berry, Today pluralism is the official response to religious diversity in Canada and has been institutionalized through the establishment of Multicultural policy and the constitutional protections of religious freedoms.

However, some thorny issues remain when the values of different religious groups clash with each other or with the secular laws of the criminal code. The right to follow Sharia law for Muslims, the right to have several wives for Mormons, the right to carry ceremonial daggers to school for Sikhs, the right to refuse to marry homosexual couples for Christian Fundamentalists, are all issues that pit fundamental religious freedoms against a unified sovereign law that applies to all equally.

The acceptance of religious diversity in the pluralistic model is not without its problems. For example, one pluralistic strategy for managing the diversity of beliefs has been to regard religious practice as a purely private matter. In order to avoid privileging one religious belief system over another in the public sphere, e.

All religious faiths and practices are equal, included and accommodated as long as they remain private. In the guise of implementing pluralism, the attempt to secularize the public sphere artificially restricts it Connelly, Religious freedom and diversity keeps the religious life of Canadians interesting.

The full acceptance of religious differences may take some time, however studies show that Canadians are moving in this direction. The evidence is that as people become more exposed to religious diversity and interact with people of other religions more frequently, they become more accepting of beliefs and practices that diverge from their own Dawson and Thiessen, While veiling continues to be practiced by Muslim women, and is more often associated with Islam than with other religious traditions, the practice of veiling has been integral to all three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Christian and Jewish women wear headscarves as a cultural practice or commitment to modesty or piety, particularly in religious sects and cultural traditions like the Amish or Hutterites for example. Today, we know the hijab to be worn as a headscarf covering the whole head and neck, while leaving the face uncovered. The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear and is worn accompanying the hijab.

The burka is a one-piece loose fitting garment that covers the head, the face and entire body, leaving a mesh screen to see through. There is a popular belief among Muslims and non-Muslims alike that Islam dictates veiling upon Muslim women. Furthermore, there is a parallel belief among both Muslims and non-Muslims that the prescription of veiling is stated clearly in the Koran, the Holy Book of Islam.

As to the question of whether or not it is obligatory for women to wear hijab, the Koran states that women should cover their bosoms and wear long clothing, but does not specifically say that they need to cover their faces or hair Koran, But the best garment is the garment of righteousness. The hijab as we know it today, is not mentioned specifically in the Koran. The prophet Mohammed was once asked by a woman if it was okay for women to go to prayers without their veils. Critics of the veiling tradition argue that women do not wear the veil by choice, but are forced to cover their heads and bodies.

Purdah is part of the Pushtunwali or customary law in which women are regarded as the property of men. It is significant that following the Iranian revolution in and the seizing of power in Afghanistan by the Taliban in , the new Islamist governments forced unveiled women to wear the hijab in Iran and the burqa in Afghanistan as one of the first policies enacted to signal the Islamization of cultural practices.

Muslim women who choose to wear coverings are seen as oppressed and without a voice. However, Muslim women choose to wear the hijab or other coverings for a variety of reasons. Many daughters of Muslim immigrants in the West contend that they choose to wear the veil as a symbol of devotion, piety, religious identity and self-expression. Zayzafoon, Through their interpretation of the Koran, they believe that God has instructed them to do so as a means of fulfilling His commandment for modesty, while others wear it as a fashion statement. Furthermore, studies have shown that for some women, the hijab raises self-esteem and is used as form of autonomy.

Some Muslim women do not perceive the hijab to be obligatory to their faith, while others wear the hijab as a means of visibly expressing their Muslim identity. Unfortunately this association has also occasionally resulted in the violent assaults of Muslim women wearing hijab. By making assumptions about the reasons women have for veiling, the freedom of these women to wear what they feel is appropriate and comfortable is taken away. Most people view the hijab as cultural or religious, but for some, it carries political overtones.

Muslim women who wear the hijab to communicate their political and social alliance with their birth country do so by challenging the prejudices of the Western world. Wearing hijab is also used as a tool to protest Western feminist movements which present hijab-wearing women as oppressed or silenced.

Although the principles of modesty are distinctly outlined in the Koran, some Muslim women perceive the wearing of the headscarf as a cultural interpretation of these scriptures, and choose to shift their focus internally to build a deeper spiritual relationship with God. While wearing hijab granted women in the past to engage outside the home without bringing attention to them, the headscarf in modern Western society has an adverse effect by attracting more attention to them which ultimately contradicts the hijabs original purpose.

Despite the assumptions of secularization theory and some of the early classical sociologists that religion is a static phenomenon associated with fixed or traditional beliefs and lifestyles, it is clear that the relationship of believers to their religions does change through time. We discussed the emergence of the New Religious Movements or cults above for example. Especially in the s and s, cults represented particularly intense forms of religious experimentation that spoke to widespread feelings of dissatisfaction with materialism, militarism and conventional religiosity.

They were essentially new religious social forms. Below we will examine the rise of fundamentalism as another new religious social form that responds to issues of globalization and social diversity. Sociologists note that the decline in conventional religious observance in Canada, Europe and elsewhere has not necessarily entailed a loss of religious or spiritual practices and beliefs per se Dawson and Thiessen, Secondly, the orientation to these beliefs and practices has also changed.

New Age spirituality — the various forms and practices of spiritual inner-exploration that draw on non-Western traditions e.

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Dawson has characterized this new religious sensibility in terms of six key characteristics:. At the same time, the basic questions of fate, suffering, illness, transformation and meaning have not been satisfactorily answered by science or other secular institutions, which creates a continued demand for religious or spiritual solutions. With the above stereotypes, it is easy to overlook the beliefs, rituals, and origins of Rastafarianism as a religion.

Through the popularization of reggae music and artists like Bob Marley, the style of Rastafarianism has globalized though many do not know there is more to the movement than the outward appearance of its members. Today, most followers of Rastafarianism are in Jamaica, although smaller populations can be found in several countries including Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, Ethiopia and Israel. He said that a King would soon be crowned to liberate black people from the oppression caused by slavery.

This was an event with more than just political significance. Many black Jamaicans regarded the coronation of Ras Tafari Makonnen as the inauguration of a new era of spiritual redemption for dispossessed Africans after centuries of colonization, cruelty, oppression and slavery. With the fall of Babylon, Rastas believed there would be a reversal in slavery-based social hierarchy. Black people would then take their place as spiritual and political leaders the way God Jah intended them too.

One of the central religious beliefs of Rastafarians is that the Christian Bible describes the history of the African race Waters, In the prophecy of Zion, Rastas strive to return to Zion to leave the oppressive, exploitative, materialistic western world of Babylon where they will attain a life of heaven on earth, a place of unity, peace, and freedom. However, like many of the spiritual movements of late modernity, Rastafarianism does not emphasize doctrine, church attendance, or being a member of a congregation.

There are several key sacraments or religious rituals that Rasta practice to achieve this direct experience. Groundation Day is celebrated on April 21st to remember the day that Haile Selassie 1 sacred Ethiopian emperor visited Jamaica. On this day Rastafarians chant, pray, feast, and create music as celebration. Achieving higher consciousness through ritual means enables participants in reasoning sessions to re-evaluate their positions, overcome the confines of their false sense of self or ego , and reach higher truths through consensus.

Smoking Cannabis Ganja also plays an important role in many Rastafarian rituals, although it is not mandatory. Cannabis use is considered sacred and is usually accompanied with biblical study and meditation. The custom of wearing dreadlocks — long, uncombed locks of hair — also has religious significance to Rastafarians Stanton, Ramsamy, Seybolt, and Elliot, Dreadlocks dreads have political significance as a protest against Babylon because they symbolize the natural, non-industrial lifestyle of the Rastas Fisher, Dreadlocks also have several spiritual meanings.

They conform to the style worn by traditional Ethiopian warriors and priests and thus represent the power of their African ancestors. From a sociological point of view, Rastafarianism has to be understood as a New Religious Movement broadly defined in the context of the social and racial conditions of Jamaica in the 20th century. It is significant that it blends spiritual motifs of dread and redemption from the Christian bible with the anti-colonial, anti-racist politics of Third World activists like Marcus Garvey. The belief system therefore provides a religious inflection to the material circumstances black Jamaicans face due to the history of colonial oppression.

It is a claim to status as much as a path to spiritual transformation. Another extreme fundamentalist group, the Westboro Baptist Church, picket the funerals of fallen military personnel Hurdle, , of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings Linkins, , and even of the brutal greyhound bus stabbing in Winnipeg, Canada CBC News, The public demonstrations of the Ultra-Orthodox men and the Westboro Baptist Church provide a platform for these groups to disseminate their beliefs, mobilize supporters and recruit new followers. However, the controversial protests also attack routine norms of civility — the right of 8 year old girls to walk to school unmolested by adult men; the solemnity of funeral rites and the mourning processes of the bereaved — and lead to communal disruption and resentment, as well as the alienation of these groups from broader society.

One of the key emblems of the contemporary rise of religious fundamentalism is that conflicts, whether they are playground disagreements or extensive political confrontations, tend to become irreconcilable when fundamental beliefs are at the core of said disputes. These types of issue are one of the defining features of the contemporary era. Unlike discussions relating to secular business or political interests, fundamentalist beliefs associated with religious ideology seem non-negotiable and therefore prone to violent conflict.

The rise of fundamentalism also poses problems for the sociology of religion. For many decades theorists such as Berger , Wilson ; and Bruce argued that the modernization of societies, the privatization of religion, and the global spread of religious and cultural pluralism meant that societies would continue to secularize and levels of religiosity would steadily decline.

However, other theorists such as Hadden ; , Stark ; and Casanova ; have recently begun to reconsider the secularization thesis. They argue that religious diversity and pluralism have sparked new interpretations of religion and new revivals of religiosity. In other words, these new sociological interpretations of religion propose that rather than withering away, fundamentalist groups will continue to thrive because they offer individuals answers to ultimate questions and give meaning to a complicated world.

Interestingly enough, in his later works, Berger abandoned his original theory of secularization.

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The Pew Research Center has recently presented some interesting findings that can also provide a general sense of what the future for religious fundamentalism may hold. While it is not clear from this research how many Muslims hold fundamentalist beliefs per se eg.


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Wahhabi, Salifi, etc. How does the sociology of religion explain the rise of fundamentalist belief in an increasingly modern, global society then? The answer that sociologists have proposed is that fundamentalism and religious revivalism are modern. These pamphlets were not a return to pre-modern traditionalism however. They were an explicit response to modern forms of rationality, including the trend towards historical and scientific explanations of religious certainties. A response, because of their defensively orientated motivation to challenge the modernist movement; and a product, because of their use of modern techniques of mass communication and commercial promotion to transmit a particular set of beliefs in a clear and concise manner to a mass audience.

To expand the concept of fundamentalism beyond this specific usage in the context of 20th century Christian Protestantism poses some analytical problems. However its use in popular culture today has expanded far beyond this narrow reference. In this expanded usage, fundamentalism loosely refers to the return to a core set of indisputable and literal principles derived from ancient holy, or at least unchallengeable, texts. However, even if we restrict the use of the term fundamentalism to a religious context, there are a number of problems of application.

For example, the emphasis on the literalism of holy texts would not be able to distinguish between fundamentalist Islamic movements and mainstream Islam, because both regard the Koran to be the literal, and therefore indisputable word of God communicated to the prophet Mohamed by the Arch Angel Gabriel. On the other hand, the fundamentalist movements of Hinduism do not have a single, authoritative, holy text like the Bible or Koran to take as the literal word of God or Brahman.

In response to these problems, Ruthven proposes a family resemblance definition see Section In this respect, the common sociological feature that unites various religious fundamentalisms, is their very modern reinvention of traditions in response to the complexity of social change brought about by globalization and the diversification of human populations. Globalization and late modernity introduce an anxiety-laden, plurality of life choices including religious choices where none existed before. If religious fundamentalist movements primarily serve and protect the interests and rights of men, why do women continue to support and practice these religions in larger numbers than men?

This is a difficult question that has not been satisfactorily answered. Strict observance of the rules of ritual observance is choice women make to bring themselves closer to God. Control over female sexuality is a primary focus of all fundamentalist movements. For example, in Islamic fundamentalism, it is seen as shameful and dishonourable for women to expose their bodies. Under the Pushtunwali customary law , Afghan women are regarded as the property of men and the practice of Purdah seclusion within the home and veiling when in public is required to protect the honour of the male lineage Moghadam, For example, in , the Indian parliament passed a bill that would disallow women to file for divorce.

There have also been many significant instances of violence against women physical and sexual perpetrated by men in order to maintain their social dominance and control Chhachhi, In Saudi Arabia, rape can only be proven in court if the perpetrator confesses or four witnesses provide testimony Doumato, One purpose of fundamentalist movements therefore is to advantage men and reinforce ideals of patriarchal power in a modern context in which women have successfully struggled to gain political, economic and legal powers historically denied them.

The role of women in Muslim or Hindu traditions is so different from that in Western religions and culture that characterizing it as inferior or subservient in Western terms risks distorting the actual experience or the nature of the role within the actual fabric of life in these traditions Moaddel, In order to properly study women in Fundamentalist movements, it is imperative to gather the perspectives and ideas of the women in the movements themselves in order to eradicate the Orientalist stigma and bias towards non-Western religions and cultures.

After the Revolution in Iran, the law making veiling mandatory for all women emerged as one of the most important symbols of the new, collective Iranian national and religious identity. It was a means of demonstrating resistance against Western values and served symbolically to mark a difference from the pre-revolutionary program of modernization that had been instituted by the deposed Shah. Many women demonstrated against this law and against other legal discrimination against women in the new post-revolutionary juridical system. However, this dissent did not last long.

As Patricia Higgins stresses, these demonstrations were not supported by the majority of Iranian women. The number of supporters of the demonstrations also decreased when Ayatollah Khomeini—the religious leader of Islamic revolution — mentioned his support of compulsory veiling for women. So it appears that the majority of Iranian women accepted the new rules or at least did not oppose them.

In the prerevolutionary regime of the Shah, there had been a state-lead attempt to change the juridical system and the public sphere to promote the rights of Iranian women in a manner similar to their western peers. Nevertheless, the majority of Iranian women, especially in the rural areas and margins of the cities, still wore their traditional and religious clothing. Veiling was part of the traditional or customary dress of Iranian women.

However, an equally important fact, which is always less stressed in the dominant narrative about the Iranian revolution is that this transformation of veiling from traditional custom to political symbol first occurred in s, when King Reza Pahlavi banned veiling for all women in the public sphere. To be clear, veiling was a custom or fashion in clothing for women, but not mandatory in law.

Nevertheless, 40 years before the revolution, King Reza Pahlavi made unveiling mandatory in law for all women in Iran. What were the main reasons beneath this radical change which was imposed on Iranian society by the King Reza government? Reza Pahlavi can be recognized as the founder of new modern state in Iran.

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To a certain extent he was successful, especially in building the main transportation and new economic and bureaucratic structure. In this vein, the veiling of women was recognized as one of the most important symbols of Iranian traditional culture which needed to be removed, even violently, if modernization was to succeed.

But did the significance of veiling arise from its place in religious texts and the strict customs of traditional ways of life or did it arise only as the outcome of the modern reading of these religious and traditional rules? It has been argued that fundamentalist movements represent a claim for recognition by beleaguered religious communities. However, in the case of the Hijab or veiling in contemporary Iran, the irony is that from the beginning it was not the religious scholars, traditional leaders or Olama who emphasized veiling as central to the distinction between traditional, religious Iranian culture and western culture.

Rather, the equation of traditional Iranian religious society and veiling originated with secular intellectuals and politicians. Reza Shah, the modern leader who identified these symbolic qualities of religious identity, could never be regarded as a religious fundamentalist. However, he was the first head of state to recognize and highlight veiling as an important symbol of the traditional religious way of life, albeit in a negative way.

The second irony is that, apart from upper middle class urban women who embraced the active role of unveiled women in the public sphere, this process of cultural modernization and unveiling was not noticeably successful. The majority of Iranian women were subject to traditional and religious restrictions whose authority rested with the family and religious leaders, not state laws Higgins, However, during the Iranian revolution, the political process of Islamization was not monolithically conservative or fundamentalist. At the moment of revolution the dominant Islamic discourse included accepting and internalizing some parts of modern and western identity, while criticizing other parts.

It was argued that veiled woman should participate in society equally , even if motherhood should be their priority. At this point in time, veiling was not seen so much as a return to traditional conservative gender roles, but as a means of neutralizing sexual differences in the public sphere. If they complied with wearing the veil, as noted above, most Iranian women already did wear veils voluntarily , women could leave their confinement within the patriarchal family and participate in public social activities, even without permission of their father or husband. At this specific historical moment, the religious authorities treated women as free, independent individuals, whereas previously they had been under the strict authority of their families.

Veiling, within the political narrative of the revolution, was seen as the feminine expression of the resurgence of pure Islam, a flag of the critique of western values by Iranian society. After the revolution consolidated into the Iranian Islamic state, this modern, leftist version of Islam was displaced by a more fundamentalist conservative narrative. Even so, at its inception the meaning of compulsory veiling, as a symbol of traditional religious values, was not the product of the traditional values of religious society itself but a product of the way religious society was represented by secular scholars and politicians.

Modern secularization was the process that established the symbolic significance of the veil for fundamentalism in Iran. One of the most internationally publicized and controversial instances of sati was that of Roop Kanwar on September 4, It occurred in the small town of Deorala in the state of Rajasthan.

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Roop Kanwar was a well-educated eighteen year old Rajput woman who had married twenty-four year old Mal Singh just eight months before. Her husband died unexpectedly of gastroenteritis, although some speculate it was actually a suicide by poisoning Hawley, a. The next day, Roop Kanwar stepped onto the funeral pyre with her deceased husband, put his head in her hands as is the custom, and burned alive with his body. This illegal event was witnessed by a few hundred people but there were conflicting reports as to what had actually happened.

Pro-sati supporters said that Roop Kanwar had voluntarily decided to become sati and underwent the process with purpose and calm. Those who opposed sati argued that she had not acted of her own free will and was instead drugged into submission by her in-laws who had economic motives for her death. Some reported that she had tried to jump off the pyre, but was pushed back onto it Hawley, b. The practice of Sati offers another look at the complicated relationship between fundamentalism and women. Sati is a Hindu ritual in which a widow sacrifices herself by being burned alive on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband.

It is a religious funeral rite practiced or endorsed primarily by Hindu groups rooted in the aristocratic Rajput caste in the Rajasthan state of India. Sati is therefore not central to Hinduism, but is practiced by a portion of the population, both men and women, who can be seen as Hindu fundamentalists. While the Western and English understanding of the word sati is as the practice of widow burning, in the Hindi language it refers to the woman herself. A woman who is sati is a good, virtuous woman who is devoted to her husband Hawley, a. The Rajput belief is that a woman who freely chooses to become sati is protecting her husband in his journey after death.

The power of her self-sacrifice cancels out any bad karma that he may have accrued during his lifetime. She also provides blessings to all those who witness the event Hawley, b. After her father humiliates Shiva by excluding him from a sacrifice, Sati kills herself in front of him as an act loyalty to her husband. Supporters see the modern version of sati as a manifestation of this same sacrificial power used by the goddess Sati Hawley, a.

However, while sati is seen as a traditional practice, most of the early Hindu religious texts do not recognize sati at all, and it is only mentioned occasionally in later texts. In a manner consistent with other forms of fundamentalism, certain verses have been cited as scriptural justification of the practice by supporters, but their interpretation and translation have been contested by scholars and there is no definitive, unambiguous endorsement of sati Yang, Although this Hindu practice has never been widespread, it happened with enough frequency to catch the attention and revulsion of the British in the nineteenth century while India was under British rule.

In British officials made the practice illegal and a punishable offence for anyone involved Yang, The practice has continued to occur very infrequently since then, but the worship and glorification of sati is still a major aspect of the religious belief system of some Rajput Hindus Harlan, The criminalization of sati has also become a rallying point for Hindu fundamentalists in their larger battle against the secular state.

Its persecution is seen as an infringement by the state into the domain of religion causing the fight for sati to become a fight for religious freedom Hawley, a. Twelve days after her death by immolation, a chunari celebration was held at the funeral site to honor and praise her sacrifice. Further gatherings and sati endorsement by both religious and political organizations continued in the months that followed and eclipsed smaller protests held by opponents of sati.

The sati of Roop Kanwar triggered a number of larger social debates regarding the intertwining threads of religion, gender, and the state. For them, the religious significance given to sati is nothing more than a guise to aid the oppression of women. Sati also became a battleground in the struggle between the religious freedom of Hindus and the secular Indian State. First is the reactionary nature of this Hindu movement against the perceived threat to traditional religious beliefs and values.

Demonstrations by sati supporters signified a resistance to the modernization, secularization, and liberalization of India, particularly in regards to the place of women. By becoming sati, a woman is performing the ultimate act of devotion to her husband and is sacrificing herself for the betterment of her family and the wider community. Hawley, b. For most of history every aspect of life in society revolved around some form of religious practice.


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In many cultures, prior to contact with the Western world, religion was so ingrained into every part of life that there was no specific word for it. It was the means by which life was regulated and made purposeful. The modern shift towards secularization and the scientific worldview is a recent phenomenon. Explanations for events of everyday life were no longer based on the notion of mysterious or supernatural powers.

Everything, in principle, could be reduced to calculation. However, the transition from a world based on religion to one that gives the ultimate authority to scientific discovery has not been without its issues. Contemporary creationists reject Darwinian evolutionary theory because they believe everything came into being as a result of divine creation, as described by religious texts such as the Bible.

3 Problems with Religion… and Solutions!

One historic example of such a conflict is that between the astronomer Copernicus and the Catholic Church Russel, When Copernicus proposed a heliocentric model of the solar system based on his empirical astronomic observations, i. This claim, originally made in , did not immediately attract the attention of the Church. Even today they are used as a pretext for violence towards those who do not share the same beliefs and practices. However, when it comes to violence in the name of religion — especially in our modern world — it usually has far more to do with belonging.

Identity affirms who we are, and at the same time who we are not. Whether distinctions and differences are viewed positively or negatively depends overwhelmingly on the context in which we find ourselves. In a context of real or perceived threat, or out of a sense of historical or current injury, we turn to our identities for fortitude and reassurance. In seeking to give meaning to who we are, religion is bound up with all the components of human identity.

It thus plays a key role in providing a sense of value and purpose, especially where identities are threatened or disparaged. But, in doing so, religion can intensify that self-righteousness. This tendency generates a mindset in which people see themselves as part of a community of the elect in violent conflict with those who do not share their worldview. Such an ideology can be powerfully attractive to those alienated from wider society, especially younger people seeking a sense of self-worth, or even prestige. While there are clearly times when physical violence must be tackled head on, such a step alone cannot contain the mentality that leads to it.

The utmost must be done to drain the "swamp of alienation" — whether political, social or economic — in which violence breeds. No less critical is to highlight the voices of the overwhelming majority of religious institutions and authorities that repudiate such abuses of religion. Regrettably, the international media has been far more diligent in publicizing the abuses rather than the condemnations. In particular, we need to highlight where religions show respect for other communities and traditions, and have repudiated the extremist mindset. It has developed networks of collaboration throughout the region, training religious leaders in dialogue and social media skills.

The broad idea that a shared faith serves the needs of a society is known as the functionalist view of religion. One recurring theme is social cohesion: religion brings together a community, who might then form a hunting party, raise a temple or support a political party. They must compete with other faiths for followers and survive potentially hostile social and political environments.

Under this argument, any religion that does endure has to offer its adherents tangible benefits. Christianity, for example, was just one of many religious movements that came and mostly went during the course of the Roman Empire. According to Wood, it was set apart by its ethos of caring for the sick — meaning more Christians survived outbreaks of disease than pagan Romans.

Islam, too, initially attracted followers by emphasising honour, humility and charity — qualities which were not endemic in turbulent 7th-Century Arabia. Given this, we might expect the form that religion takes to follow the function it plays in a particular society — or as Voltaire might have put it, that different societies will invent the particular gods they need. Conversely, we might expect similar societies to have similar religions, even if they have developed in isolation.

And there is some evidence for that — although when it comes to religion, there are always exceptions to any rule. View image of Jesus statue. Hunter-gatherers, for example, tend to believe that all objects — whether animal, vegetable or mineral — have supernatural aspects animism and that the world is imbued with supernatural forces animatism.

This worldview makes sense for groups too small to need abstract codes of conduct, but who must know their environment intimately. An exception: Shinto, an ancient animist religion, is still widely practised in hyper-modern Japan. At the other end of the spectrum, the teeming societies of the West are at least nominally faithful to religions in which a single watchful, all-powerful god lays down, and sometimes enforces, moral instructions: Yahweh, Christ and Allah. Whether that belief constitutes cause or effect has recently been disputed , but the upshot is that sharing a faith allows people to co-exist relatively peacefully.

The knowledge that Big God is watching makes sure we behave ourselves. Or at least, it did. Today, many of our societies are huge and multicultural: adherents of many faiths co-exist with each other — and with a growing number of people who say they have no religion at all. We obey laws made and enforced by governments, not by God. Secularism is on the rise, with science providing tools to understand and shape the world.

Powerful intellectual and political currents have driven this proposition since the early 20th Century. Communist states like Soviet Russia and China adopted atheism as state policy and frowned on even private religious expression. His successors are emboldened by surveys showing that in many countries, increasing numbers of people are saying they have no religion. Despite this, religion is not disappearing on a global scale — at least in terms of numbers. Muslims would grow in number to match Christians, while the number unaffiliated with any religion would decline slightly.

Religion will continue to grow in economically and socially insecure places like much of sub-Saharan Africa — and to decline where they are stable. That chimes with what we know about the deep-seated psychological and neurological drivers of belief. When life is tough or disaster strikes, religion seems to provide a bulwark of psychological and sometimes practical support.

In a landmark study, people directly affected by the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand became significantly more religious than other New Zealanders, who became marginally less religious.

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People affected by the earthquake in New Zealand became significantly more religious than other New Zealanders. The traditionally religious both belonged and believed; hardcore atheists did neither. The research suggests that the last two groups are significant. In interim results released in May , the researchers found that few unbelievers actually identify themselves by these labels, with significant minorities opting for a religious identity.

But what does it actually mean? In , Linda Woodhead wrote The Spiritual Revolution , in which she described an intensive study of belief in the British town of Kendal. Today, Woodhead says that revolution has taken place — and not just in Kendal. Organised religion is waning in the UK, with no real end in sight.

In poorer societies, you might pray for good fortune or a stable job. But if your basic needs are well catered for, you are more likely to be seeking fulfilment and meaning. Traditional religion is failing to deliver on this, particularly where doctrine clashes with moral convictions that arise from secular society — on gender equality, say. What do these self-directed religions look like?

Many religions have syncretistic elements, although over time they are assimilated and become unremarkable. Festivals like Christmas and Easter, for example, have archaic pagan elements, while daily practice for many people in China involves a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The joins are easier to see in relatively young religions, such as Vodoun or Rastafarianism. An alternative is to streamline.

New religious movements often seek to preserve the central tenets of an older religion while stripping it of trappings that may have become stifling or old-fashioned. But without the deep roots of traditional religions, these can struggle: the Sunday Assembly, after initial rapid expansion, is now reportedly struggling to keep up its momentum.

But Woodhead thinks the religions that might emerge from the current turmoil will have much deeper roots. The first generation of spiritual revolutionaries, coming of age in the s and s, were optimistic and universalist in outlook, happy to take inspiration from faiths around the world. Their grandchildren, however, are growing up in a world of geopolitical stresses and socioeconomic angst; they are more likely to hark back to supposedly simpler times.

In the European context, this sets the stage for a resurgence of interest in paganism.