Friday, April 29, 2011

Theory and Data

Even sociologists tend to put theory before data (and not just economists and imperialists).

In the sociology of religion, European and British sociologists have maintained that, just as Europe became secular over the centuries, modernity in the rest of the world would lead to a similar demise of religion.

Thus, according to Steve Bruce, secularization is an integral process in a liberal democracy: given religious choice, people will lose faith and turn away from religion.

Yet America has been a democracy for two hundred fifty years, and it is still a vigorously religious place. It seems that Bruce et al just don't want to acknowledge facts.

"Towards the end of the twentieth century, however, a step change occurred in the debate," observes Grace Davie in her book 'The Sociology of Religion'. Until the early 1990s, the links between modernization and secularization were still generally assumed." However, looking at America "Europe begins to emerge as the exceptional case".

Sociologists like Peter Berger began to renounce the secularization thesis. "My point that the assumption that we live in a secularised world is false," notes Berger. "Although the term 'secularisation theory' refers to work from the 1950s and 1960s, the key idea of the theory can indeed be traced to the Enlightenment. The idea is simple: Modernization necessarily leads to a decline of religion, both in society and in the minds of individuals. And it is precisely this key idea that turned out to be wrong."

In fact, the wellsprings of the sociology of religion are themselves poisoned. The founding fathers of sociology, from Marx to Weber, were convinced of the inevitable redundancy of religion. Subsequent researchers have simply mimicked them.

Interestingly, in the 2001 British Census, when religious identity was first included in the survey, it was found that, against expectations, it was not the inhabitants of the industrialized North who revealed themselves to be non-traditional; those with 'no religion' were concentrated in the cities in the South, largely in the university towns, among the faculty and the employees.

At this point the subjects becomes terribly relevant to Bangladesh and the Muslim world. Bangladesh was founded on the principle of 'secularism', a principle that was shot down by successive military governments. Recently, there has been an attempt to sideline Islam and resurrect the corpse of secularism by the ruling political party (whose leader is the daughter of the pater patrie) and the intelligentsia.

These dinosaurs hark back to the earlier views on modernity and secularism: indeed many, if not most, were trained in universities here and in Europe, in the doctrines of the founding fathers.

Let us hope they go the way of those earlier beasts.

No comments: