Evaluate Postmodernist Explanations of the Role and Functions of Religion in Contemporary Society Essay
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Evaluate postmodernist explanations of the role and functions of religion in contemporary society. Postmodernist religion can be defined as any type of religion that is influenced, interpreted or shaped by postmodernism and postmodern philosophies. Postmodern religion is not an attempt to banish religion from society; rather, it is a philosophical approach to religion that considers orthodox assumptions that may reflect power differences in society rather than universal truths. A postmodern interpretation of religion emphasises the key point that religious truth is highly individualistic, subjective and resides within the individual.
Science technology and efficiency would overcome many social problems. The collapse of the ‘grand-narrative’ is part of post-modernism as it is a belief system that claims universal authority, religion; science and philosophies are examples of these. They have a superior status over other belief systems and also claimed they could explain the causes of society’s problems and could therefore provide solutions. According to Jean-Francois Lyotard, the grand-narratives powerful attraction has been lost during the 20th century.
So, science hasn’t delivered solutions, wars have devastated nations, and the world is still full of evils that the grand-narratives can’t explain or resolve. Examples of this are world wars; nuclear warfare; AIDS and global poverty. The common perspective of post-modernist religion is ‘there is a god who can’t do anything, there is a god who won’t do anything, or there isn’t a god. ’ Zygmunt Bauman said post-modernity is the irretrievable loss of trust in the project of modernity and its ability to manage, enhance and fulfil human potential. Symbols, signs and meanings are also another theory to post-modernism.
Mass media like television and the internet have exposed us all to different cultures and ideas from across the globe, also known as globalisation. The ‘meanings’ of things have now become more individualised, we consume the products, symbols and signs of a globalised economy, but we provide our own meanings to these. Jean Baudrillard said “we are what we consume… and our identities are formed and changed through acts of consumption. ” Signs and symbols have become detached from their original meanings; original purposes and meanings have become lost.
Religious signs and symbols are losing their meaning, these signs and symbols have been adopted by mass consumer culture, usually used for decorative and playful purposes such as jewellery. Joseph Natoli said “post-modernity has questioned the authority and legitimizing of both faith and reason, opting for the view that both offer stories of reality… both do so on the shifting sands of a post-modernist outlook. ” Signs and symbols have become insecure from the things they were linked to originally. Individuals no longer identify with a single religion and so they blend different beliefs with practices to create an identity for themselves.
This can be known as being utilitarian, so there is no substance to our identity and actions, we are no longer just shaped by the moulding force of socialisation. Zygmunt Bauman said the consumption of goods and services becomes more important in our lives as a way of constructing and changing identity. This consumption is addictive and advertising drags us in. “I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore, and I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore, and when do you think it will all become clear? ” from ‘The Fear’ by Lily Allen (2009).
Many different religions now exist and people tend to mix the styles and genres with one another. Baudrillard said it is hard to find guidance in our lives as sources of authority and moral leadership are often undermined, they seem almost irrelevant. In the past we believed anything that religious leaders told us, simply because they were a religious leader, but this is no longer the case as we are now sceptical. We live in a world of images, and so it is hard to distinguish between image and reality as we live in a world where media simulations are more ‘real’ than the reality that we live in.
Anthony Giddens said we live in a new form of modernity where we have lost faith in the ‘project of modernity’. We are now able to try out many different cultures in a globalised world. Life is now more uncertain than before. So to sum up, we live in a society characterised the coexistence of many different subgroups and cultures; the erosion of traditional social classes; the growth of movements such as environmentalism, feminism and ethnic politics; the absence of agreed standards for evaluating what is true/false and right/wrong; the blurring of what is real and not; and experimentation with self-identity.
Stewart Clegg said that organisations are different in the post-modern age. For example, in the modern age there is rigid authoritarian control; mass consumption; it is dominated by technology and is demarcated and deskilled. Whereas, in the post-modern age there is flexible and democratic control; niche markets; it is enabled by technology and is undemarcated and multi-skilled jobs. Postmodernists believe that the advent of postmodernity has led to significant changes in religion.
In particular, they see it as leading to the decline of traditional church-based religions in which believers follow rules laid down by their religion, and the growth of new age beliefs where people can pick and choose their own belief systems. Marxist religion is all about the ruling class owning the means of production, and through wealth they derive power which allows control over the superstructure of society. Ruling class ideology of religion keeps the ruling class in power by discouraging the working classes from realising they are being exploited and in turn trying to rebel against the ruling class power.
Karl Marx famously described religion as the ‘opium of the masses’, by this he meant that religion was seen as being like a drug that helps people deal with pain, much like ‘opium’. Religion promises eternal life in heaven for people who accept religion. As the biblical quote says ‘it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye if a needle, than for s rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’. It offers hope of supernatural intervention to end suffering, for example, Jehovah’s witnesses believe that judgement day will arrive and those who are not religious will be judged and punished.
Marx saw religion as a mechanism of social control. It creates false class consciousness, mistaken beliefs about the true nature of social life, which justify the position of the ruling class. This prevents the working class developing class consciousness, in which they become aware that they are exploited, and unite to overthrow the capitalist system that exploits them. Marx believed the only escape of this exploitation was communism, this way religion would no longer be necessary. Without social classes there would be no need for religion as its sole purpose was to legitimate ruling class power.
Religion would therefore disappear. For example, in the Soviet Union under communist leadership from 1917 to 1990 the state consistently opposed the existence of religious beliefs and destroyed many Russian orthodox churches, as well as mosques and synagogues. The Marxist view of religion has been proven in many societies across the world; some examples of these are the Hindu caste system and evangelical Christianity in Latin America. In the Hindu caste system in India, people were divided into 5 castes based upon their supposed degree of religious purity.
The Brahmins (priests) were at the top and the untouchables (unskilled labourers) at the bottom. This supports the Marxist view since no movement was permitted between castes, this system ensured the ruling class maintained their power and control and justified the lowly position of those at the bottom in terms of their religious impurity. The new Christian right have encouraged the spread of protestant religious beliefs in predominantly catholic Latin America countries particularly amongst the poor in shantytowns.
This supports the Marxist view of religion as protestant religious beliefs provide religious discipline and hope of salvation in afterlife to some of the poorest in Latin American societies, discouraging them from supporting radical catholic liberation theology and encouraging support for US-style capitalist values. However Marxist view can also be criticised, just a few criticisms would be that Marxist only focus on one possible role of religion in society and it ignores the much broader range of effects religion might have. Another criticism would be that attempts to destroy religion in communist countries were not successful.
Religion survived in the USSR and Catholicism thrived in communist Poland. Much like Marxists, feminists believe that religion does not serve the interests of society as a whole, and only serves the interests of a particular social group. They see religion as being patriarchal, male-dominated, and serving the interests of men. Karen Armstrong argued that religion has not always been patriarchal and that in early history women were considered central to spirituality and archaeologists have found numerous symbols of the great mother goddess, in comparison there were few portrayals of male gods.
With the advent of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, monotheistic religions largely replaced polytheistic religions. In all these cases god was portrayed as a male. Jean Holm argues that in the public sphere of religion when important positions are held, men almost always dominate. However, in the private sphere, women are dominant and do most of the religious work. Holm has identified inequality between men and women in all major world religion. Some examples of these inequalities are shown in Christianity/roman Catholicism; Islam; Hinduism; Chinese folk religions; Orthodox Judaism and Sikhism.