Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR

Urbanism and the "Death of Religion": Strategies of Religious Manifestation in Modern Society1

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR

Urbanism and the "Death of Religion": Strategies of Religious Manifestation in Modern Society1

Article excerpt

Introduction

Although there has been much opposition to the notion that "God is dead" (see Luckmann, 1967) by those who have argued that secularism has not necessarily undermined the role of religion in modem society; recently, scholars such as Steve Bruce (1992; 2002) have reasserted the argument that modernity impedes the transmission of religious and other traditional values, and will therefore, eventually, lead to the demise of religion. Generally, it is true that in modern and technologically developed societies such as Britain, Europe and North America, religious practice has been drastically affected in that there are less people attending churches, less people raising their children with religious upbringing and so on. It is interesting to note that this has been accompanied by a rise in spiritualism and a growing interest in New Religious Movements2 but some scholars have argued that it is less likely that these kinds of religious values will be passed on to the next generation (as in the case of conventional forms of religious transmission) as these new forms tend to be individualistic and centered around a personal spiritual quest. If the trend of modem society's inability to transmit religious values continues, even if there is a rise of individual based spiritualities, it should be cause for concern to those who are optimistic about secularism's failure to eradicate religion from modem life.

Since the assumption regarding the "death of religion" is based on the observation that, in modem society the transmission of conventional forms of beliefs is gradually breaking down in the face of growing number of options for individuals, it is important to test this transmission thesis in other contexts and see if there is a global trend in this regard. Steve Bruce's analysis is largely based on data from Britain and North America where religious belonging is perhaps more common than religious practice. In this paper, I look at two case studies from the Hindu Diaspora in Natal, South Africa and analyse the various strategies that this religious community has used to transmit its beliefs and values to the next generation. I will argue that the transmission thesis, before it can be accepted at face value, has to take into account the subtle strategies engaged by social groups to maintain their religious and cultural traditions. Before proceeding on to the actual case studies, I would like to make some preliminary comments on two important and related aspects: the first one deals with conventional strategies that religious institutions use to transmit their beliefs and worldviews; the second is the relationship that exists between religion and culture. These two aspects will illuminate the basic argument of this essay.

Conventional Strategies of Religious Institutions

Religious institutions follow certain methods to propagate and ensure that their beliefs and practices are continued into the future. In this regard, two areas of religion are important, namely, ritual and doctrine. Every religion has certain practices that are considered religious, or sacred, and particular to that tradition. For instance, in the case of Christianity the rituals of baptism and attending church every Sunday constitute some of the most central religious acts that all Christians are expected to follow in order to be a Christian. Likewise, in the case of Hindus, the performing of religious acts such as the lighting of the lamp in the morning before their chosen deity, or meditating on the chosen deity at sun rise, going to the temple on certain days in the week and offering flowers and fruits to the deity, constitute some of the religious acts that Hindus perform in order to be Hindu. These religious acts are the means through which religious worldviews are transmitted from one generation to the other. In a traditional society, these religious acts are followed with a certain routine and any deviation from such a routine is easily noticed by others who might frown upon this. …

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