Reflection 3/18

This week, we learned about the six different narratives about religion in America. The first narrative, secularization, insists that religion is losing its influence on American society. The privatization of individuals’ religious experience, the fragmentation of social life into a variety of institutions, the socialization of American government programs, and increasing pluralism and rationalism all contribute to this narrative. The next argument claims that religions are not losing influence but reorganizing around local, not denominational, levels. This argument relies upon the evidence of local vitality, even as denominations decline, showing the importance of local connections and communities in the religious sphere. The third argument points to a conservative resurgence across all religions, especially in an increase among militant conservatives. From megachurches to jihadis, this theory notes conservatives’ reaction to modernity and their desire to seek security by “recapturing” the government from secularists and liberals. The fourth narrative, Religious Individualization, paints a picture of a world where individuals do not look to any single tradition for their belief. Instead, they follow the societal trend of serial connections by drawing on multiple religions and often changing their affiliation. The fifth narrative views American religion through the lens of capitalism, believing that religions compete for “customers” in religious markets. In this theory, religions that promote conservatism and otherworldliness succeed the most, measured by their soaring numbers. Finally, the sixth narrative addresses the globalization of religion. It follows global migration patterns as immigrants transplant their religions to their new homes but also bring their new religious influences back to their homeland. In this way, pluralism increases. These six narratives capture the main trends in American religion as theorized by religious sociologists today.