Religion, Culture and Society: A Global Approach

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Andrew Singleton

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  • Front Matter
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    List of Tables

    List of Figures

    About the Author

    Andrew Singleton PhD, is a sociologist in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University, Australia. His research interests in the sociology of religion include secularization, youth religion, personal belief and alternative religions. Singleton has published extensively in these areas both nationally and internationally. He is co-author (with Michael Mason and Ruth Webber) of the book The Spirit of Generation Y: Young People's Spirituality in a Changing Australia (Garrett Publishing 2007).

    Acknowledgements

    I gratefully acknowledge the copyright owners for permission to use the following material: Figure 6.1 adapted from the ONS licensed under the Open Government Licence v. 1.0. Table 7.1 was originally published in Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar (2009) American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS 2008), Summary Report. Hartford, CT: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, © 2009 The Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. Figure 8.2 is from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population, © 2011 Pew Research Center. http://pewforum.org. Figure 10.1 © Ayazad/Fotolia. The epigraphs in Chapter 4 are from Rodney Stark (1999) ‘Secularization, R.I.P.’, Sociology of Religion, 60 (3): 249–273 and Steve Bruce (2001) ‘Christianity in Britain, R. I. P.’, Sociology of Religion 62, (2): 191–203 respectively, both used with permission from Oxford University Press.

    Parts of Chapter 13, including the three tables, were previously published as: Michael Mason, Andrew Singleton and Ruth Webber (2010) ‘Developments in spirituality among youth in Australia and other western societies’, in Giuseppe Giordan (ed.), Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion, vol 1: Youth and Religion, Leiden: Brill. Used with permission from Brill. Special thanks to Michael Mason who created Table 13.1, and who wrote the paragraph which introduces that table. A version of the case study in Chapter 11 was published previously as Andrew Singleton (2012) ‘Beyond heaven: young people and the afterlife’, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 27 (3): 453–68. Used with permission from Taylor and Francis. Some paragraphs in Chapters 1, 6 and 13 were adapted from Andrew Singleton (2011) ‘Religion and spirituality’, in John Germov and Marilyn Poole (eds.), Public Sociology, 2nd edn. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. Used with permission from Allen & Unwin.

    I'd like to thank the team at Sage Publications who helped bring this book to fruition. Chris Rojek invited the proposal and offered very helpful suggestions and guidance as I developed the contents of the book. Chris also suggested the title of the book. Jai Seaman, Martine Jonsrud and Gemma Shields answered all my queries with good grace and efficiency and assisted me greatly as I prepared the manuscript. Thanks also to production editor Katherine Haw and copyeditor Rose James for attending to the finer points of the manuscript.

    I conducted some of my research on Spiritualism, Theosophy and afterlife belief at the Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History, Turku, Finland. They have a wonderful library, situated in a beautiful location on the River Aura and it was a delight to work there. Special thanks to the Donner staff and academics, including Björn Dahla, Ruth Illman and Joakim Alander.

    I wrote several chapters while living in Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. I'd like to thank several people there, including scholars from the Melanesian Institute: Nick Schwarz, who suggested several books to read and Franco Zocca and Jack Urame who kindly answered my many questions about religion in Melanesia. Lee Wilson, an anthropologist from Cambridge University, was working in Goroka, and was an excellent source on Islam and a great conversationalist about all things religious. The Reverend Kumoro Vira generously talked to me about the Foursquare Gospel Church in PNG, which I appreciate very much. Also a special word of thanks to the Friday night football crew at Akogere, bos meri Christina, Anna Colwell, Gordon, Charlie and Peter. Tenkyu olgeta.

    Closer to home, I'd like to thank several of my Monash University colleagues, including Arunachalam Dharmalingam, Jo Lindsay, Jude McCulloch and Kirsten McLean for their support of my book-writing enterprise. I'm grateful to the students of my ‘Spiritualities, faiths and religions’ class on whom I road-tested much of the content of this book and who generated so much stimulating discussion. Several of my graduate students completing dissertations in the sociology of religion have brought books or scholars to my attention, or listened patiently as I've talked about my pet topics. I'm especially indebted to Susan Carland and Rachmad Hidayet for their work on different aspects of Islam and to Clare Diviny whose work on supernatural TV and teen spirituality brought the Secret Circle TV show to my attention. I wish them all the best as they continue their academic careers.

    I made my own start in the sociology of religion under the guidance of Gary Bouma at Monash University. I strive to emulate the clarity and directness of Gary's work. I completed two large projects on youth religion with Michael Mason and Ruth Webber from the Australian Catholic University. Both have been terrific colleagues, intellectual sparring partners, teachers and friends.

    I am appreciative of those who read and commented on different chapters, including Seumas Spark, Julian Millie, Kirsten McLean, Michael Mason and Rachmad Hidayet. The anonymous scholar who reviewed the manuscript for Sage made many excellent suggestions and I am especially grateful to that person for taking the time to read and comment on the manuscript. Helen Spark carefully proofed and edited almost all of the chapters. I remain in awe of her knowledge of grammar and thank her for her outstanding generosity. I had three bursts of writing in the country town of Bealiba, supported each time by my indefatigable mother, Heather Cooper, who entertained the children, brewed coffee and allowed me to sit in St David's church hall so I could type away uninterrupted.

    In their acknowledgements many authors apologize to their family for the imposition book writing brings to family life. I'd like to think that producing this book didn't affect my children too much. Then again, we were at a friend's house recently, and at a loss for things to do, one declared, ‘Let's play Seventh Day Adventists!’ The other two replied with an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’ That might not have anything to do with me, but either way, I dedicate this book to Tamas, Mairead and Hamish. And to Ceridwen – who always cared when I began a sentence with ‘My book …’, read and commented insightfully on several chapters, took two of the photos, and understands better than anyone what religion means to me – this book is also dedicated to you.

    Introduction: Religion, Culture and Society

    John Kriosaki is from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and recently wrote a letter to the country's national newspaper, The Post Courier, stating:

    As a Christian … and spirit filled in the Lord Jesus Christ … I won't have a problem in the USA because that country has a lot of Christians who give in cash or kind and I am travelling for a special purpose and God will provide for me.

    John wrote to the newspaper seeking financial sponsors for a fact-finding mission to the United States. He is hoping to travel there for ‘Educational and Spiritual purposes’, but doesn't spell out precisely what this entails. While seeking initial funds for airfares and accommodation from fellow Papua New Guineans, he is confident that once in America, his fellow Christians will recognize a brother Christian and extend the hand of friendship to him. Letters with religious themes are common in PNG's national newspaper. Indeed, religion receives plenty of coverage generally. The Post Courier even has a weekly section, Daily Bread, that provides news about religious matters throughout the country.

    Papua New Guinea is a beautiful, mountainous and developing nation of more than six million people located on the southern rim of the Pacific Ocean. Granted independence from Australia in 1975, one of its key industries is coffee, grown in lush plantations. Many Papua New Guineans live in basic conditions and rely on gardens for much of their food and a little extra income. As the publication of a letter like John Kriosaki's suggests, PNG is also a deeply Christian country. The last census of the population revealed that 96 percent of all people identified as Christian.

    Part of this book was written while I was living in a town called Goroka, situated in the PNG highlands. I was reminded on an almost daily basis of the prominent place religion has in that country, whether it be the gospel music played at the town's few supermarkets and restaurants, or my daughter's karate lessons being stopped midway through for prayers. I discovered that a popular FM radio station in town was a dedicated Christian channel broadcasting ‘fire and brimstone’ sermons warning of the dangers of alcohol, drugs and betel-nut chewing. These were not the only signs of a vibrant religious culture: on Saturdays and Sundays hordes of well-dressed families would make their way to the many churches dotted around town, most of which were nothing more than tin sheds or grass huts. Sermons from these churches were broadcast loudly on powerful PA systems and rang out across the neighborhood.

    Christianity arrived here via missionaries from Australia, Europe and America. In the PNG highlands first contact with whites occurred in the 1930s, so the spread of Christianity has been very rapid. Now, there are literally thousands of churches dotted throughout the highland provinces, and just as many in the coastal areas. One Sunday morning I climbed to the top of a 6500-foot mountain above the town and there I found a group from a nearby village planning the construction of yet another church. The missionaries are still there too. Some translate the Bible into local languages, while others provide more practical support, such as health services or air transportation. One of the American-based missionary organizations has built a huge compound for their missionaries on the edge of town, complete with an American-themed school, shop and medical service. While the missionaries are still an important presence, nationals now run most of the churches. PNG's story is like that of many countries in what is known as the ‘Global South’. Across the past century, Christianity has grown markedly in countries throughout Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific. Places like these, along with the United States, are Christianity's beating heart.

    The letter-writer, John Kriosaki, is optimistic that his fellow Christians in the United States will help sustain his travels. He has good reason to be, for the United States is probably the most religious of the world's industrialized countries. More Christians live in the United States than any single other country. Its citizens report consistently high levels of religious affiliation, belief and practice. But the United States is somewhat of an anomaly among the world's most developed countries.

    Take Australia, for example, which is the closest industrialized nation to PNG. Although PNG and Australia are separated by a small body of water, they are vastly different when it comes to religion. Australia was once a nation of people who called themselves Christian. Back in the 1950s, the overwhelming majority of people identified with a Christian denomination, and almost half the population attended services of worship monthly or more often. Fifty years later, identification with a Christian denomination has dropped sharply and fewer than a fifth of the population attend services monthly or more often. Research in Canada and Great Britain shows a similar turn away from Christianity. In places such as these books by well-known atheists, like Richard Dawkins, have been best-sellers.

    While Christianity appears to be waning throughout countries in the West, religions apart from Christianity seem to be prospering there. In the Australian city where I live, there are numerous Hindu and Buddhist temples, Jewish synagogues and Islamic mosques. At my children's school, pupils can take religious education lessons in either Christianity or Buddhism, while the Muslim children who fast during the holy month of Ramadan are allowed to have restful lunchtimes. While the proportion of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists living in the West has increased markedly, these religions, like Christianity, are a powerful force in other parts of the globe.

    Clearly, the world is a religiously complex place, characterized by decline, growth and increased religious pluralism. How did all of this come about? And what do these changes mean for societies and individuals? This book explores religion around the world from the perspective of the social sciences. It seeks to explain why the world's religious life is what it is, and to consider how this impacts on everyday life. In the pages that follow the social scientific approach is introduced as a valuable way of making sense of these changes – how contemporary religious patterns can be explained and understood through reference to sociocultural factors and social theory, hence the title of the book, Religion, Culture and Society.

    The book is divided into two parts. The aim of the first part of the book is to familiarize readers with the important terms, methods and theories in the social scientific study of religion. The book does this chronologically, examining the development of the social sciences from the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, before considering contemporary theories and debates. Part I concludes with a chapter on conducting social research on religion.

    The second part of the book has an applied focus, and makes use of the various methodological and interpretative tools discussed in Part I in order to critically assess contemporary patterns of religion and spirituality around the world. It starts by addressing the religious situation in the West, examining in particular recent religious change in Great Britain, Western Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States.

    Attention is then turned to other important global trends, including the spread of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism and the emergence of Pentecostalism as the major force in Christianity, particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America. A chapter on lived religion follows this global survey. This enables the reader to understand how social factors influence everyday, individual religiosity. The book concludes with a consideration of faith in the future, discussing the rise of the ‘new atheism’ and religion among young people. The abiding emphasis throughout is on explaining recent religious change using the tools of the social sciences.

    In each chapter there are case studies to illustrate various issues, points to stimulate further discussion (under the heading ‘Points to ponder’) along with suggestions for further reading (under the heading ‘Next steps …’) and documentaries to watch.

    The world's religious and spiritual life is not a simple story of revival or decline, but an intriguing mix of both, within and between countries. This book offers a critical introduction to developments in social theory and research on recent religious change. The reader will better understand the complexities of contemporary religious life and the social and cultural forces that are driving religious change around the world.

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