Communities of Faith: Sectarianism, Identity, and Social Change on a Danish Island

Communities of Faith: Sectarianism, Identity, and Social Change on a Danish Island

Communities of Faith: Sectarianism, Identity, and Social Change on a Danish Island

Communities of Faith: Sectarianism, Identity, and Social Change on a Danish Island

Synopsis

Most studies of modern religious change have viewed it as a process of secularization in which the advance of science and technology discredits religious beliefs and destroys religious institutions. Yet religion has stubbornly failed to expire in the West, and in some places is undergoing a resurgence. This book reconsiders secularization theory through a case study of arural island in Denmark where, in the late nineteenth century, a series of powerful religious awakenings electrified its population, dividing it into several large and intense Lutheran movements. After examining the history and social structure of those Protestant groups and revealing their cultural and ideological complexity, the author concludes that the secularization theory is inadequate and that an anthropological approach, focusing on religion's role in creating identity and community for its members, offers much better insight into religious processes.

Excerpt

In the village of Galtrup in northern Denmark, a white stone church stands at the crossroads of the two main streets. It was raised around the year 1100, when the first Christian priests came to the region, and it has housed worship continuously since then. Through plagues and famines, through wars and invasions, through almost nine hundred cold Danish winters, the villagers of Galtrup have come to the church to receive the teachings and sacraments of the Christian faith. The massive stones in the walls are solid still, and the church may well stand another millennium. But over the past generation, the villagers have suddenly stopped coming. A typical Sunday service now draws a half-dozen parishioners, mostly elderly, who come more out of habit than out of interest. The church no longer has its own priest, but shares one with two neighboring parishes in a similar situation. This lack of interest has prompted the state church authorities to consider closing the Galtrup church and combining the three parishes in a single building. In a few years, the church that withstood the Black Death and the Reformation may collapse from simple lack of interest.

For the past fifty years, throughout the Western world, churches like the one in Galtrup have been closing their doors. Established religions have experienced a staggering loss of influence and credibility in Western Europe and North America; church attendance has fallen, levels of belief have declined, and the clergy have lost their influence in the larger society. The moral standards and unity once represented by the churches . . .

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