Religion and Civil Society

Religion and Civil Society

The following text outlines some of the central questions addressed under the heading "religion and civil society" between 2003 and 2005. Projects beginning in 2006 will extend this theme by focusing more closely on the subject of morality.

The efflorescence of popular forms of religion is nowhere more evident than in Poland. This basilica, one of the largest in the world, was recently completed at the Marian shrine at the village of Lichen, Central Poland. The second half of the nineteenth century saw numerous Marian apparitions in most countries of Catholic Europe. The expansion of this pilgrimage site dates back to the 1960s, and all attempts in the socialist period to curtail the power of the church had the opposite effect. The stone (right) is believed by pilgrims such as this Roma woman to bear the footprints of Mary. The Lichen complex has been closely studied over many years by Poznan anthropologist Katarzyna Marciniak. Zoom Image
The efflorescence of popular forms of religion is nowhere more evident than in Poland. This basilica, one of the largest in the world, was recently completed at the Marian shrine at the village of Lichen, Central Poland. The second half of the nineteenth century saw numerous Marian apparitions in most countries of Catholic Europe. The expansion of this pilgrimage site dates back to the 1960s, and all attempts in the socialist period to curtail the power of the church had the opposite effect. The stone (right) is believed by pilgrims such as this Roma woman to bear the footprints of Mary. The Lichen complex has been closely studied over many years by Poznan anthropologist Katarzyna Marciniak. [less]

What is the significance of religion in human societies? How does it change in modern conditions, i.e. with more complex divisions of labour and representative forms of government? The former question has traditionally been the preserve of philosophers and theologians. The latter has been a central theme for the social sciences since their inception, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau's outline of a "civil religion" in the eighteenth century to Thomas Luckmann's notion of "invisible religion" two centuries later. Contrary to the dominant trends in social science theorizing, epitomized in the concept of secularization, scholars have in recent decades been obliged to recognize that religion has remained a force in the public sphere; in the countries that concern us, it has returned to public prominence after many generations of being confined to the private sphere and, in extreme cases, abolished altogether.

The efflorescence of popular forms of religion is nowhere more evident than in Poland. This basilica, one of the largest in the world, was recently completed at the Marian shrine at the village of Lichen, Central Poland. The second half of the nineteenth century saw numerous Marian apparitions in most countries of Catholic Europe. The expansion of this pilgrimage site dates back to the 1960s, and all attempts in the socialist period to curtail the power of the church had the opposite effect. The stone (right) is believed by pilgrims such as this Roma woman to bear the footprints of Mary. The Lichen complex has been closely studied over many years by Poznan anthropologist Katarzyna Marciniak. Zoom Image
The efflorescence of popular forms of religion is nowhere more evident than in Poland. This basilica, one of the largest in the world, was recently completed at the Marian shrine at the village of Lichen, Central Poland. The second half of the nineteenth century saw numerous Marian apparitions in most countries of Catholic Europe. The expansion of this pilgrimage site dates back to the 1960s, and all attempts in the socialist period to curtail the power of the church had the opposite effect. The stone (right) is believed by pilgrims such as this Roma woman to bear the footprints of Mary. The Lichen complex has been closely studied over many years by Poznan anthropologist Katarzyna Marciniak. [less]

Anthropologists have contributed to the scholarly literature in a variety of ways. First, they have asked searching questions about the very definition of religion. It turns out to be very hard to pin down criteria with universal validity. Some anthropologists favour a looser understanding, perhaps still using the Durkheimian opposition between sacred and profane, but prepared to allow non-supernatural persons and things to enter the category of the sacred. This move may allow the identification of "secular religions", a frame of analysis that is potentially useful in dealing both with modern nationalisms and with the various forms of socialist ideology.

 
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