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Reviewed by:
  • Religion, Globalization, and Culture
  • Michael Lambek (bio)
Peter Beyer and Lori Beaman, editors. Religion, Globalization, and Culture. Brill. 2007. viii, 608. €115.00, US$158.00

Religion, Globalization, and Culture is a collection that appears to be written by and for sociologists of religion. I say 'appears' because there is little guidance in the cursory introduction and no list of contributors. The editors are concerned to redress the fact that studies of globalization have failed to address religion. Another theme is the challenge of globalization for sociological debates on secularization that have centred on contrasts between Western European and US experiences, including arguments over which is the 'exceptional' case (Canada's position remains unclear). To an outsider, what is implicit here is the unresolved tension within the discipline of sociology as to whether it is primarily a form of comparative history or of generalizing (law-establishing) social science. The volume is certainly narrower in its theoretical focus than the more unwieldy yet stimulating collection edited by Hent de Vries (Religion:Beyond a Concept, Fordham 2008).

In lieu of a substantive introduction, the book opens with a polemical essay by Roland Robertson, who chides fellow sociologists for their provincialism (while citing over thirty publications of his own) in overemphasizing the secularization thesis, roundly dismissed as a 'modern Western myth.' The distinctive nature of modernity once secularization (and, presumably, secularism, to draw on Talal Asad's useful distinction) is removed from it is not addressed. Robertson usefully points to Durkheim's argument that religion is inherent to society as well as to the contemporary global significance of millennialism. The following essay, by George Thomas, ostensibly contradicts Robertson's thesis by stating that global society is simultaneously 'the most secular and the most religious of worlds.' As both authors suggest, secular and religious movements and claims need to be understood in relation to each other. Thomas provocatively describes 'global rationalism as a secular project,' substantively non-religious, while claiming simultaneously that functionally, 'global rationalism is an immanent salvation religion' (46). José Casanova tempers all these generalizations in a particularly intelligent and erudite discussion of secularism and modernity. Unfortunately, the usefulness of this essay is undermined by the fact that many of the citations are unaccountably missing.

There are twenty-seven chapters of varying ambition, from broad overviews to empirical studies. In the section on 'regional particularizations,' Afe Adogame gamely covers sub-Saharan African religions and their diasporas, while Rubina Ramji presents a brief introduction to the migratory history of Sufi Islam; other essays range in scope from the [End Page 272] Danish cartoons to 'religions in contemporary Europe.' The basis on which the essays were solicited or how regions were designated is unclear. Tellingly, there is no 'regional' chapter on North America per se.

Many of the debates hang on the way different authors define and use their terms. In general, there could be clearer distinctions maintained between religion as an analytic category of social science, religion as a key term of modern culture, and specific religions as tokens of either of these types. Some authors address the ways in which boundaries between religion and the secular are produced, challenged, and transformed through the law and religious publics. Margit Warburg takes up Peter Beyer's earlier important ideas about the distinctive options faced by religious communities in the context of globalization. Lori Beaman briefly compares Canadian law and attitudes to Mormon polygyny in the nineteenth century and Muslim polygyny today, noting the way that immigration boards often rely on naive understandings of the subject (including the nature of religion) in their work as gate-keepers. Like Beaman, many of the essays show that, pronouncements about globalization not withstanding, the nation-state remains critical for the analysis of religion.

Several essays concern the effects of religion on globalization and the reverse; they investigate these questions historically or with respect to the way a general category of 'religion' has emerged within an emerging 'world culture.' Among the defining features of the latter are concerns with ecology and human rights, suitably addressed in some of the chapters. In sum, this book pursues a number of debates on the nature and place of religion in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 272-273
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-15
Open Access
No
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