2001: The Future of Religion
Why does religion matter? Many answers have been put forth including that it grounds values, creates purpose and gives meaning in an ontological sense to our existence. Often science turns religious experience into an epiphenomenon but unfortunately offers nothing in return. How can modern society deal with this deficit of meaning?
The position of religion in the Western world today presents a contradictory picture. On the one hand there are many indications of a far-reaching secularisation having taken place. Traditional religions are in many places losing adherents and common knowledge of tradition is diminishing.
Has the individual, in religion as in other matters, become an individualistic, “cherry-picking” consumer? There are indications that the hectic pace of the information society and its insistence on flexibility probably are transforming the conditions governing religious experience.
Man’s increasing progression, through science and technology, from being created to himself becoming a creator, is probably also impacting on his relation to religion. On the other hand, it is arguable that secularisation is a myth. Perhaps people today believe in other things and in other ways and possibly this really implies a revitalisation of religious life.
Now, just as previously, there is a great need of meaning and coherence and the discrediting of the political utopias, which in many ways were substitute religions, has put religion back in focus again. Science is triumphant but apparently has little to say about the meaning of existence and the nature of good and evil, even though it sometimes takes on an element of religious conviction itself.
The new choices confronting us, for example due to the development of biotechnology, are perhaps making the normative system of religion still more important. There are fears today of Western societies being fragmented, partly because they are no longer held together by common convictions and norms, and religion is perhaps necessary as an integrating force.
At the same time religion is obviously contributing towards fragmentation by giving rise to sects and fundamentalist movements. How can religious convictions be united with the pluralism of modern society and its insistence on respect for dissidents? Will the fundamentalist movements, like communism, be vanquished by Western liberalism, individualism and consumerism, or will they, on the contrary, acquire added importance? Or will the Gnostic “tradition” instead shape the future, with its scepticism towards doctrinal faith and its emphasis on inward enlightenment?
Paul Heelas: The Sacralization of Life
Professor, Lancaster University, UK
Erik Davis: Techgnosis – The Incarnation of Ideas
Contributing Editor, Wired, San Francisco, USA
José Casanova: Religion in a Global Age
Professor, New School for Social Research, Department of Sociology, NY, USA
Morton Narrowe: The Sacred and Profane
Chief Rabbi, Stockholm, Sweden
Antoine Faivre: Western Esoteric Currents of this Turn of the Century – Continuity and New Per spectives
Professor, Directeur d’Études à l’École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sciences Religieuses, Sorbonne, France
Gilles Quispel: Gnosis and the Future of Christianity – A Historical Survey
Professor Emeritus, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands
Elaine H. Pagels: The Gnostic Approach to Religion
Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion, Princeton University, USA
Robert Jay Lifton: Fundamentalism in a Psychoanalytic Perspective – The Self
Professor, City University of New York, USA
John C. Farrell: Religion and Freud – Secular Fundamentalism
Professor of Literature, Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, USA
Whitney S. Bodman: Islamic Fundamentalism
Doctoral Candidate, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University, Massachusetts, USA
Massimo Introvigne: The New Religions in Practice
Dr, CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions), Turin, Italy
Rolf Ekéus: Future Threats
Ambassador, Chairman of the Governing Board at SIPRI, Sweden
John F. Haught: Science, Religion and the Question of Cosmic Purpose
Professor, Georgetown University, Department of Theology, Washington, USA
Harvey Cox: The Future of the Great Religions
Professor, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University, Massachusetts, USA