Powers: Religion as a Social and Spiritual Force

Powers: Religion as a Social and Spiritual Force

Powers: Religion as a Social and Spiritual Force

Powers: Religion as a Social and Spiritual Force

Synopsis

This book, the first themed volume in the series The Future of the Religious Past, elaborates the manifold and fascinating interconnections between power and religion. It carries forward the work of the series in bringing together scholars from many disciplines and countries to research forms of religion in a way unfettered by the idea that religion is solely or even primarily a matter of belief in specific tenets or intellectual systems--it is also a matter of multiple particulars in individual and social life, such as powers, things, gestures, and words. Dealing with the nexus of religion and power, the present volume radically undermines the idea that the political relevance of religion is a thing of the past. Its essays treat power as a central aspect of religion on many levels, from that of macro-politics through the links between religion and nationhood to the level of personal empowerment or its obverse, disempowerment. Power and religion are both omnipresent in human action and interaction. There is no human act that does not include some kind of faith in a positive outcome and no deed in which power does not play some role. People obviously can attempt to use religion as an instrument to enhance their power or improve their status, whether personally or at the level of the nation state. Yet religion is in principle ambiguous in relation to power: it can disempower as well as empower, and it can even function as a critique of existing power relations. Moreover, there is the consolatory function of religion, offering ways of compensation, of healing, and of enduring feelings of powerlessness. Like the first volume in the series, Religion: Beyond a Concept, the essays in this volume strike a balance between broad analyses of the nature of religion and power in their modes of emergence today and specific case studies from anthropology, sociology, and the arts. It is noteworthy for the breadth of the material it treats and its reach outside the Christian West, while not taking anything in that Western tradition for granted, given the astonishing changes of supposedly familiar religious phenomena we are viewing in the contemporary world.

Excerpt

This volume radically undermines the idea that the political relevance of religion is something of the past. It deals with the nexus of religion and power. Power is now seen as a central aspect of religion, not only because of the ingrained conviction of many—in the West as well as the East—that we are currently witnessing a strong revival of religion, but also because of a reassessment of religion in relevant scholarly disciplines, especially the sociology and anthropology of religion. Power and religion are omnipresent and pervade all human (inter)actions. There is no human act that does not include some kind of faith in a positive outcome and no deed in which power does not play some role. This book elaborates the manifold and fascinating interconnections between power and religion.

The interrelations of religion and power make religion an important means of exercising power. People use religion as an instrument to enhance their power or improve their status, whether personally or at the level of the nation-state. Religion defines power relations as being self-evident, with a superhuman determination. Those who have power will do everything to boost this function, but will also confront opposition and will discover that religion has an independent dynamic. Thus, religion is in principle ambiguous in its relation to power: it can empower as well as disempower people and can function as a critique of existing power relations. Besides, there is the consolatory function of religion, by which religion helps in expressing feelings, offers ways of compensating and healing, and helps make feelings of powerlessness bearable. In addition to exploring these aspects of religion, the volume also deals in detail with various tools religion can use in order to achieve its goals, including visual imagery, art, film, and music.

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