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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