Friday, February 13, 2009

Savitri Era Religion at the right point of history

[As I have noted, in many Asian societies, including China, the immanent and transcendent are much more mixed up in various hybrid combinations. In accord with widespread traditions of syncretism, many people believe and practice many things at once. But modern conditions of belief also impel some believers to purified forms of religious practice. This is something like what happened in Europe during the Reformation, as Taylor describes it. When it happens in the unsteady world of Asia today, this is not necessarily a good thing—at least for those who love peace, predictability, and order.
A purification of practice usually involves an attempt to recover the axial age roots of local traditions. (The term “axial age” was
coined by Karl Jaspers to refer to the period in the first millennium B.C.E. when visions of a universally transcendent reality were created in Israel, Greece, India, and China.) Buddhists, Daoists, Muslims, and Christians seek purified versions of their practice. This means rejecting the accretions of tradition and of all those practices that embed religion in local communities with particularistic loyalties. Rituals are deemed to be efficacious not ex opere operato, but on the strength of the interior conviction that they express. Religious practice gets transformed into religious faith—a personal belief in world transcending ideals that demand universal loyalties.
These purified faiths grow up parallel with older, community embedded practices, but they often claim continuity with them. Often they gain inspiration and energy through connection with global religious movements. At least when they are appropriated by ordinary people, these forms are never purely universalistic. Under conditions of belief where one can never take one’s religious practices for granted, religious believers yearn for signs that their beliefs are on the right track. One important sign is that their kind of faith is expanding. There is thus a strong missionary impulse in all of these new universalizing movements.
Fearing that such faiths could inspire independent social movements, most Asian governments used some combination of suppression or co-optation to prevent such universalizing faiths from flourishing and to keep them firmly within bounds. The collapse of such political structures after the Cold War has given a new impetus to such globalizing faiths. They were attractive at least partly because they were once forbidden fruit. With the crumbling of political barriers that once confined universalizing, missionizing religions in place, there is now a global scramble for souls.
Depending on the particular contexts in which they develop, new expansionist religious movements can lead to serious social and political conflict or can provide resources for reconciliation and healing. In China, the scramble for souls leads to relatively more conflict. [...]
Internationally, the new scramble for souls can lead to intensified conflict, especially since the universalistic, world transcending impulses often get submerged quickly into worldly nationalisms, enlarged, ambitious communities created by expanded imaginations. The newly universalizing impulses do not have to lead to conflict, however. As we have seen, much depends on the content of the traditions out of which they arise and the specific context in which they evolve.
The Immanent Frame
A Secular Age: Hybrid consciousness or purified religion posted by Richard Madsen
Editor's note: This post draws from a draft chapter for the SSRC's forthcoming publication,
Rethinking Secularism, co-edited by Mark Juergensmeyer, Craig Calhoun, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen.] 8:40 AM 9:04 AM
Savitri Era Religion seems to be at the right point of history to claim its share of souls. [TNM]

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