Religion in Today's World: Global Issues, Sociological Perspectives

By Arslan, Ayse Dilara | Insight Turkey, Winter 2017 | Go to article overview

Religion in Today's World: Global Issues, Sociological Perspectives


Arslan, Ayse Dilara, Insight Turkey


By Melissa M. Wilcox

New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013, xiv + 584 pages, [pounds sterling]47.00, ISBN: 9780415503877.

Reviewed by Ayse Dilara Arslan, Bogazici University

With the rising new wave of religious-phobia in the world, understanding what lies behind the phenomenon of religion has never been so important. As the propagators of this form of religious neo-racism, (1) grow in power and increase the sphere of influence of their often misguided rhetoric on religion, it is important to take a step and look at what religion itself means, how malleable yet fragile it is, and just how different it is to what the otherwise aforementioned arbitrary rhetoric claims it to be. Intended as an undergraduate level guided reading/textbook, Religion in Today's World by Melissa Wilcox aims to bring down the sociology of religion from an "ivory tower subject" (p. i) usually only taught upon interest in undergraduate studies, to a more approachable discipline of sociology as a whole. In addition to providing readers, whether they be students or interested individuals, with a structured presentation of how to understand religion and its relation to society, by also delving into the relationships between religion and social institutions, social power, social movements and religion on the local and global level, the book furnishes its readers with a foundational conceptualization of religion in society, allowing them deeper and better perceived judgments in the future.

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Divided into five sections, the first section of the book entitled "What is Religion?" tries to define religion and provide a prediction as to its future through classical writings on the sociology of religion. Aiming to set the foundation upon which the rest of the book will build, it consists of works from various leading authors on religion, such as Talal Asad, Stephen Warner, and Peter Berger. This section's primary aim is to break the mold of the traditional definition of religion from that of the official and formal practiced religions of the world, to one that is understood to be much more culturally constructed and continuously shaped due to the malleable nature of how it is lived. The next logical step is then to delve into the debate on secularization vs. sacrilization, which is exactly what this book does by presenting multiple pro and con arguments for a true and clear understanding of the argument. Next, the book aims to analyze the relationship between religion and social institutions, as the section itself is aptly named, by looking at religion in terms of the state, the law and the nation by providing case studies from the Chinese state and Buddhism, post-socialist Central Asia and Islam, Japan in the early twentieth century, and civil religion and militant religiosity in the United States.

The next two sections of Religion in Today's World, entitled "Religion and Social Power" and "Religion and Social Movements" respectively, starts off with one of the most important classical texts on religion for anyone trying to make a connection between religion and social power and movements: Karl Marx's statement on religion in his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law. Before going into specific cases and examples works by the acclaimed W.E.B Du Bois and Lara Medina come, in order to set the theoretical framework behind religion and power. The first of these two sections then follows with incredible and unique case studies showcasing just how various societies have been able to enact their group power in the face of religious discrimination or suppression, or vice versa. …

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