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in India, Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Sikhism in

the Punjab, Protestantism in apartheid South

Africa, and Catholicism in Poland have all nourished

varieties of nationalism; religious ideologies

of various kinds underlie the global distribution

of religious violence and terrorism in places as

diverse as Indonesia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and

the United States (Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror

in the Mind of God, 2000); Catholic Liberation

Theology has inspired numerous movements

against oppression in Latin America and the

Philippines; non-denominational Christianity

underlies the civil religion of many countries;

and social movements for peace and justice,

human rights, animal protection, reproductive

rights, the rights of unborn children, environmentalism,

and feminism all draw, to varying degrees,

on religious inspiration and support. The involvement

of religious organizations in cross-national

efforts to relieve suffering at times of acute

drought, famine, disease, and civil war – as well

as in varieties of charitable and welfare work – is

on a massive scale. The religious factor is not the

sole ingredient in any of these examples of the

political implications of religion, but they all

demonstrate the uses to which religion can be

put in the national or international exercise of

political power.

The implications of religious ideas have historically

been strong for the control of sexuality,

gender roles, family formation and divorce,

the socialization of children, social stratification,

and the transmission of property. Divisions of

theological and moral opinion about sexuality

and gender are particularly threatening to the

unity of some major Christian Churches, but ironically

successive United Nations conferences on

women have revealed some unexpected alliances

between, for example, Catholic and Muslim interests.

Other lines of division are apparent in world

religions over the use of nuclear power, genetically

modified organisms, and embryonic stem

cells in medical research.

The consequences of religious ideas have also

affected the classification, regulation, and nurture

of human bodies. Questions of diet, clothing,

hair covering, disease, healing, birth, death,

funerals, punishment, and the consumption of

stimulants have all emerged from religious traditions.

Not surprisingly, many Christian Churches

invested heavily in the provision of health care

in their home countries as well as in mission

fields. In addition, some strands of Buddhism

nurtured martial arts; and urban churches were

influential in organizing the game of soccer in

nineteenth-century Britain, while the Young

Men’s Christian Association did the same for basketball

in the United States. There is also some

statistical support for the claim that people with

active involvement in religion are more likely to

live longer, stay healthier, and feel happier than

other people, although the direction of causation

may be questionable. Finally, studies of Christian

revivals, conversion processes, and ritual states of

religion religion


liminality, during which participants are temporarily

stripped of their normal identities and

expected to show obedience and humility, have

documented the variable impact of religious ideas

and activities on emotions.

Education has taken many different forms in all

the world’s religions, ranging from elementary

instruction in Christian Sunday Schools and catechism

classes to Muslim madrasas or seminaries

and monastic training in Buddhism. Religious

institutions of higher learning have produced

some sublime examples of scholarship, literature,

music, architecture, and art. But states now provide

most forms of public education, either separately

from religions – as in France and the United

States – or in partnership with them – as in the

United Kingdom. Opposition to the involvement

of religious organizations in either public or

private education is strong in some quarters,

especially at times of growing religious diversity.

Nevertheless, religious interests try to influence

school curricula and, in some countries, they

provide schools based on religious values as an

alternative to the state’s educational system. For

example, the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement in

Japan and the Roman Catholic Church in many

parts of the world run their own kindergartens,

schools, colleges, and universities.

The differentiation of social institutions that

accompanied modernization had two main effects.

One was to reduce the significance of religion for

political and economic spheres for the integration

of whole societies; the other was to confine

matters of religion largely to the sphere of voluntary

associations, families, neighborhoods, and

private life. It is in this private sphere of relative

independence from the state and profit-seeking

activity that religion continues to have implications

for the self-identity of individuals and the

collective identity of ethnic groups. In advanced

industrial or postindustrial societies, in particular,

individuals are expected to choose a religious

identity – or none – and to use it in accordance

with their own wishes. It is assumed to be a subjective

choice, and religious groups accused of

“brainwashing” or manipulating their recruits

face stiff criticism. On the other hand, some defensive

reactions against the impersonal, rapidly

changeable, centrally managed, and mobile character

of societies in the early twenty-first century

have taken the form of collective identification

with ethnic and ethno-religious identities. This

is particularly the case with ethno-religious migrants

to prosperous countries in the North, for

whom integration into their new societies may

entail or force a heightened appreciation of their

religious and ethnic distinctiveness. Public policies

in the United Kingdom favor societal integration

on the basis of ethno-religious community,

whereas more centralized states such as France

discourage the deployment of collective religious

identity in public institutions. Tensions are evident

concerning the place of ethno-religious identities

and interests as the European Union

becomes increasingly diverse in terms of ethnicity

and religion.

Sociological theories about religion present

bewilderingly different landscapes that reflect

differing assumptions, perceptions, and impressions

of religion’s social significance. Theoretical

debates about religion from sociological perspectives

center on secularization or the restructuring

of religion, the rationality of religious actors, the

implications of globalization for religion, and

the growing significance attached to spirituality.

The most general theory of secularization holds

that the significance of religion for the guidance,

integration, and symbolization of societies

declines as a consequence of processes of differentiation,

rationalization, and modernization. There

are Marxist, Freudian, and functionalist variations

on the general theme, but none of them anticipates

the total disappearance of religion or denies

the possibility that religion could occasionally

be revived. Refinements of the theory have been

numerous. David Martin, for example, argued in

A General Theory of Secularization (1978) that secularization

varied with the religious and political

frameworks operative in each country; and Karel

Dobbelaere insisted in Secularization: A Multi-

Dimensional Concept (1981) that analytical distinctions

should be made between laicization, religious

change, and declining levels of religious

involvement. Objections to the general theory of

secularization charge it with being motivated by

anti-religious ideology, based on inadequate evidence,

applicable only to Christianity, and limited

to the history of Europe. Replacements for, or

alternatives to, the general theory of secularization

have grown in number and assertiveness

since the 1980s. The most radical ideas are that,

globally, the significance of religion has increased,

especially in the form of Pentecostal Christianity,

and that, in any case, human beings are “hard

wired” for religion. Another proposal is that, although

levels of participation in formal religious

activities have declined in many countries, levels

of religious belief remain high. An alternative

view is that religion is not in decline: it is

merely being restructured in new forms. A final

religion religion


argument against secularization is that postmodernity

heralds a re-enchantment of the world in

which religion is expected to flourish.

A second set of theoretical debates about religion

also have implications for thinking about

secularization. These debates center on the claim

made by Rodney Stark and Roger Finke in Acts

of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion

(2000) that human beings employ their “subjective

rationality” to “weigh the anticipated rewards

against the anticipated costs” when making choices

about religion. The assumption is that, as the

greatest rewards are scarce or not attainable in

life, it is rational to seek general compensators

for them by entering into exchanges with deities.

Since this theory considers the practice of religion

to be a rational choice (see rational choice theory)

for individuals, it follows that levels of involvement

in religion are not expected to decline. Moreover,

when the same theory is applied to religious

organizations it predicts a process of continuous

decline and renewal as those that offer relatively

poor rewards for the costs incurred by members

are replaced by new organizations with low startup

costs that can offer relatively high rewards. The

expectation is that, in the “religious economy,”

high-demand organizations with few “free riders”

will triumph over less demanding ones. Competition

for market share is expected to perpetuate

the cycle, thereby ruling out secularization in the

sense of the withering away of religious organizations.

But criticisms of this rational choice approach

are numerous. They include the claims

that it rests on questionable and highly individualistic

psychological assumptions; it mistakenly

takes for granted that religious costs and rewards

can be unproblematically measured and compared;

it fails to acknowledge that the religious

economy is far from being a free market in many

societies; and it has very little to say about the

factors that determine the changing significance

of religion in the public sphere. The debates about

the merits of rational choice theory in relation to

religion are contentious and polarized with no

sign of resolution.

Globalization means that transnational forces

are helping to make the world appear to be a

smaller place and to raise consciousness of what

Roland Robertson terms “globality” in his Globalization

(1992). In these circumstances, religions

can be expected to make significant contributions

towards the identification and sanctification of

global processes and structures without necessarily

coalescing into a single global religion. In

fact, Robertson and others have emphasized that

globalization involves not only the emergence of

would-be universalist themes but also the filtering

of universal themes through “local” cultures,

resulting in hybrid globalization. Certainly, religious

movements such as the Unificationists, the

Baha’is, and Soka Gakkai International – to say

nothing of the Catholic Church’s long tradition

of ecumenical outreach – aspire to embody ideals

of global peace and unity through symbols rooted

in their own national origins. Moreover, James

Beckford argues in Social Theory and Religion (2003)

that would-be global norms governing the freedom

of religion are emerging from international

codes of human rights. But critics of globalization

theory point to the fact that control over

each movement remains firmly in one country,

although their operations are undoubtedly transnational.

Other critics point out that the global

surge of Pentecostal and charismatic Christian

groups is actually promoted mainly by interests

in the United States, especially in the case of

denominations using satellite communications

technology. Nevertheless, there is little doubt

that the availability of global communications

networks has enabled some religious organizations

to strive for effective global outreach and

to achieve unprecedented levels of international

activity. This may be another reason for skepticism

about theories of radical secularization. On

the other hand, it remains to be seen how far

religious ideas about the global circumstance

and globally active religious organizations can

influence the development of other cultural, political,

and economic processes at the global level.

The final theoretical debate echoes the opening

discussion about the definition and the diversity

of religion. A new development is occurring

against a background of declining levels of participation

in formal religious activities in many

western countries, the growing popularity of

charismatic forms of Christianity, the vitality of

so-called ethnic congregations, the rising salience

of Islam outside its heartlands, and the continuing

strength of commitment to conservative evangelicalism

and fundamentalism. In this context,

fundamentalism refers to a loose bundle of characteristics

including the rejection of relativism

and secularism and the insistence on rigorous

application of “true” knowledge and sacred law

to all areas of public and private life. It concerns

the rapidly swelling interest in spirituality – primarily

in advanced industrial societies. According

to Robert Fuller’s Spiritual but Not Religious

(2001), “Spirituality exists wherever we struggle

with the issue of how our lives fit into the greater

religion religion


cosmic scheme of things.” New Age practices of,

for example, channeling, Reiki healing, dynamic

meditation, or aura therapy cultivate spirituality

as an individualistic form of self-development that

draws upon forces in the human body, mind, and

spirit, as well as in the natural environment. The

spiritual dimension is said to add depth and significance

to human life without necessarily invoking

ideas of the sacred or of ultimate meaning.

This is why some commentators, distinguishing

clearly between religion and spirituality, regard

the growth of interest in spirituality as an indicator

of secularization. Others prefer to consider

spirituality as evidence of the long-term process of

the privatization of religion: not the decline of

religion. Their argument is that the focus on spirituality

permits “real” or authentic religion to

escape from its captivity in forms of official, organized

religion. Again, this disagreement highlights

the difficulty of assessing the long-term

development of religion as a social and cultural

phenomenon in the absence of an unambiguous

definition. It also underlines the need to keep

firmly in mind the diversity of religion and the

complexity of its place in societies and cultures.



– see sampling.


This term has two major uses in sociology: social

and physical reproduction. That there is a close

relationship between the two has been emphasized

by both feminism and those sociologists

who have identified and investigated the continuity

across time not just of social inequality but also

of the human beings who make up social classes.

In Britain the sociologist A. H. Halsey (1923– ) has

described what he defines as the cultural capital

which is an intrinsic part of individual circumstance.

In France, Pierre Bourdieu has developed

a very similar thesis in terms of the politics of

cultural reproduction. What both these sociologists

note is that social inequality is not just a

matter of the inheritance of economic capital; it

is also a question of the way in which children

acquire from their parents specific social understandings

and skills which have a value in the

social world.

The sociological understanding of the term reproduction

was further enhanced in the 1970s

and 1980s by debates, arising within feminism

but subsequently not confined to that context,

about the part that women play, specifically in

the form of domestic and caring labor, in the

reproduction of the labor force. The politicization

of the private world (epitomized by the feminist

slogan “the personal is political”) enlarged the

sociological understanding of the meaning of the

social world. Previous understandings, which had

tended to focus on the performance of social acts

in the public world (and, prior to the wider inclusion

of women in the paid work force, those acts

were largely the acts of men), were replaced by a

view of the social world that included relations

within, as well as outside, the household. Within

the household, detailed ethnographic studies

pointed out the part that women played in “reproducing”

the work force, in both the physical and

the social senses.

The transformation of many western economies,

in the last thirty years of the twentieth

century, towards service-sector, rather than

manufacturing, industries has emphasized the

importance of certain social skills traditionally

assumed to be held by women. In that sense, the

reproduction of feminine patterns of socialization

has been given an added importance, with

an accompanying decline in the importance

(and viability) of what were assumed to be masculine

patterns of behavior. The so-called crisis of

masculinity (for which, as Linda McDowell, in

Redundant Masculinity? (2003), and David Morgan,

in Discovering Men (1992), have pointed out, there

is relatively little evidence) is, however, an

instance of the way in which the cultural reproduction

of the social world does not follow a

consistent pattern and can be closely related

to changes in economic and material social

conditions. At the same time, sociologists such

as Anthony Giddens have suggested that the

changes in intimate and household relations

brought about by shifts in the pattern of the

labor market can have a wider effect on political

ideas and, in The Transformation of Intimacy (1992),

he relates what he describes as the greater

democracy of the household to greatly increased

political aspirations for democracy.

Although the term reproduction has focused

largely on the reproduction of individuals and

their place in the social world, there is also a

sense in which sociologists have long recognized

theways inwhich social institutions are subject to

changing patterns of reproduction. For example,

the sociologist Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone

(2000), has suggested that the sense of community

in the United States is not being reproduced as

individuals order their lives in more exclusively

social ways. Equally, sociologists of culture have

replication reproduction


defined the processes through which cultural assumptions

and habits are both reproduced

and interrupted. E. J. Hobsbawm (1917– ) has, in

his The Invention of Tradition (1983), observed that

tradition cannot be regarded as an enduring,

unchanging aspect of social life; sociologists, as

much as historians, have to recognize that the

social world is as constantly invented as it is

reproduced. MARY EVANS


Since the mid-1970s, retirement has been a major

focus for research and debate in social gerontology.

Its significance has been acknowledged in

a variety of ways: as a mechanism for assisting

the individual’s withdrawal from social life; as

an institution helping to redistribute work from

older to younger people; as part of the movement

to a “leisured society”; and, from a critical perspective,

as a contributory element in the creation

of dependency in old age.

Different criteria may be used to define retirement,

with the most common including reduced

labor-force participation, receipt of a pension,

withdrawal from main career, self-definition as

retired (or a combination of any of these). In the

United Kingdom, people tend to redefine their

social status as they move past state pension

age (SPA). A representative survey of adults by

Alun Humphrey et al., Factors Affecting the Labour

Market Participation of Older Workers (2003), found

90 percent of men aged 65–9 describing themselves

as retired, compared with 26 percent of

men aged 60–4; among women, 73 percent of those

aged 60–4 described themselves as retired, compared

with 13 percent of women aged 55–9.

This change in perception appears not just to be

related to retirement from paid work; rather it

reflects acceptance of retirement as a natural and

inevitable part of the life-course.

Although there is no state retirement age in the

United Kingdom, on reaching state pension age

workers lose the majority of their statutory employment

rights. Most employers can, and usually

do, set a compulsory retirement age as a condition

of service. The European Equal Treatment Directive

(to be implemented in 2006) will, however,

outlaw age discrimination in the workplace.

Responses to this on the part of the British government

are currently under consideration, these

including prohibiting compulsory retirement altogether,

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