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  • Religion and Modern Society: Citizenship, Secularisation and the State by Bryan S. Turner
  • John Voll
Religion and Modern Society: Citizenship, Secularisation and the State. By Bryan S. Turner (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011. xxvii plus 344 pp.).

The profound changes in human life involved in modernity include transformations of religion. Sociologists of religion work to understand the nature of these major developments, as both their subject, religion, and their scholarly discipline dramatically change. Bryan S. Turner provides a comprehensive examination of both the changing nature of religion and of the scholarship that interprets religion and modernity in the past century. This massive undertaking is presented within the broad framework of contemporary global developments, in which “the major issues confronting any understanding of religion in modern societies are all related to globalisation” (viii).

In an introductory survey of “the state of the sociology of religion,” Turner sets themes for the analysis presented in the book. He argues, “The fundamental question is whether globalisation . . . produces new phenomena rather than simply a modification of existing social reality” (xiii), and notes the important [End Page 232] distinction between “religious globalisation” and “the globalization of religion” (xx–xxi) and distinctive religions.

Turner provides a broadly conceived account of the development of the sociology of religion in the West, noting that the “very development of the sciences of religion implies an important level of critical self-reflexive scrutiny in a society” (6). Part One of the volume begins with a general historical discussion and then concentrates on the traditions of scholarship built on the foundations laid by Max Weber and Émile Durkheim. The evolution of these two approaches and Turner’s reformulations of them is a major foundation for the analysis in this book as a whole.

The theoretical frameworks of the sociology of religion are presented in examinations of five major thinkers and how their ideas have been utilized by a broad range of scholars in the past century. The crucial chapters are on Durkheim (Chapter 2), whose “sociology remains relevant because it raised fundamental questions about the relationships between religion, society and self” (51), and Weber (Chapter 3), whose ideas are central to the debates about the relationships between religion and modernity. Turner then discusses the further development of these major themes in the works of Talcott Parsons (Chapter 4), Mary Douglas (Chapter 5), and Pierre Bouridieu (Chapter 6). Turner concludes this survey by critiquing more philosophical approaches to religion that “neglect religious practice in favour of the idea that the problem of religion is a question of belief” (123). Turner’s position is, “Belief can only survive if it is embedded in practice and practice can only survive if it is embodied in the everyday world” (123).

In Part Two, Turner examines major issues in understanding religion in modern society. Within these discussions, Turner provides important studies of the specific developments within Buddhism and Islam and the thematic-religious issues relating to “the body,” while presenting more broadly-based analyses of the global developments. The seven chapters of Part Two represent a fundamental agenda for understanding religion and modernity. The pluralism of contemporary societies provides a constant theme since Turner argues that “virtually all modern societies are multicultural. Because in practice it is difficult to separate ‘religion’ from ‘culture’, all multicultural societies are by definition multi-faith societies” (175).

In this broad coverage, Turner notes the continuing importance of the concept and realities of secularisation, “provided we remain imaginatively responsive to the diversity of modern religions” (150; Chapter 7). In this framework, legal pluralism is viewed as an important aspect of global multiculturalism, remembering that “it is important to focus on actual practice rather than on formal systems of belief” (155; Chapter 8). In terms of relations between religion and state, state “management” of religions is important because “Religious diversity has, with the collapse of communism and the rise of fundamentalism, become a major political issue” (192; Chapter 9). Issues of religious speech (Chapter 10) and spiritualities presented in the new media in an era of consumerism even in religion (Chapter 11) add new dimensions to the nature of “religion” in modern society. These developments lead to a reshaping of...


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