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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Christendom and mapping religion

Attended the first day of a four day roundtable on spirituality in Australia to celebrate twenty five years of the Christian Research Association of Australia - an amazing effort by Philip Hughes at an intellectual level. (I was there to talk about spirituality and the Public service).

What struck me during the presentations on the first morning was that the basic research paradigm for the sociology of religion that had guided the work of both CRA and the NCLS reproduced the assumptions of Christendom and its decline without making those assumptions explicit. To put it another way, the ecclesiology is uncritically shaped by the Christendom paradigm. It finds what it looks for but doesn't find what it doesn't look for because its sociology and ecclesiology shapes the research program.

Let me see if I can unpack this:
  • the assumptions about church attendance are assumed to represent the norm for the pattern of the ekklesia, the gathering of the people of God for their public witness in the world.
  • the research focuses on attendance as part of an institutional structure on Sunday, that is an expression of something called religion - this is form a theological and historical point of view anachronistic
  • the research approach fails to to recognise or map the activity of christians as the scattered people of God - it fails to pick up the reality of disorganised religion, people gathering outside formally organised institutions or in movements that express Christian faith in terms of movement style characteristics nurtured by organisations such as for example TEAR.
  • The research paradigm fails to take account of the migration of the sacred into forms of civil religion

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