Rethinking Religion and World Affairs


There was once a virtually unbroken consensus in the foundational works of social science about modernization and religion. One part of this consensus was empirical or factual. The other was normative or ethical. The empirical assumption was that with economic modernization or “development,” religion would decline. The ethical assumption was that with political modernization and its attendant “democratization,” religion should be confined to the private sphere. Description and prescription went happily together. Both parts of this consensus are now in question. The September 11 attacks clearly demonstrated that the consensus was wrong. Well before and apart from September 11, however, the consensus was increasingly difficult to sustain. A multitude of simultaneously developed and vibrantly religious societies—starting with the United States—explodes the empirical assumption. A multitude of simultaneously democratic and luxuriantly faith-saturated societies—including India, Turkey, and Indonesia—explodes the ethical assumption. And ten years after September 11, 2001, religious militancy remains a powerful force—in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and numerous other locales—that individual governments and the international community have proven unable to defeat or even contain. This old consensus is nevertheless stubborn.

more from Timothy Samuel Shah at The Immanent Frame here.