Revision Checklist


  • The study of religion in the modern world calls for theories, approaches and methods that engage with the issues and processes that have affected the world within the last two hundred years, such as the impact of colonialism and subsequent postcolonial developments, globalization and the rise of global religious movements.
  • Theories can be used in various ways in the study of religion.  They can be used to inform our theoretical approach to broad questions about such things as the nature of religion and non-religion, its relationship to society, class and gender, and its ability to discipline bodies and institutions.  They can be used as starting points for research, for generating questions, hypotheses and propositions.  The theoretical conclusions of other researchers can be put to the test on new data.  And grounded theories can be developed through an inductive research process.
  • A range of methodological approaches continues to be used in the study of religion, including historical, sociological, anthropological, theological, geographical, psychological and discourse-based approaches.  Contemporary problems and issues in the study of religion often require interdisciplinary research involving mixed methods.
  • Because of the interest in sacred texts and beliefs, the study of religions was traditionally associated with textual methods of various kinds, but social research methods are now commonly used, including questionnaires, interviewing and participant observation.  The use of visual media such as photographs and video, participatory and dialogical methods that engage research subjects, and spatial methods have all been added to the toolkit of scholars of religion.
  • Certain key issues have come to the fore for the study of religions as a result of the challenges of modernity and the growing importance of religion as an important social force in the modern world.  These include new questions about the significance of traditions, the interconnected nature of religions and of the religious and the secular, religious identity and the re-emergence of religion in public life, all of which have consequences for building theory, honing and developing methodology and the selection of research methods.
  • Religion in the modern world can be studied at different scales, whether through small scale bodies, objects, places, events or communities, or large scale nations, regions, global processes or the circulation of populations, ideas or movements.  It is clear, though, that the local and global are interlinked and this needs to be reflected in the conclusions we draw.
  • As individual students and scholars, the way we study religion is affected by our own standpoint and background.  Being self-aware and conscious of ethical, gender and power issues in how we represent and research other people’s religions as well as our own is important.


Traditional Hinduism continues into the modern world, and its rich complexity has to be understood for Hinduism today to be comprehended.
  • Modernity is mediated to India by British colonialism. Salient features include the nation state and the dissemination of scientific rationality.
  • One effect of the western impact on Hinduism (particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries) is the rise of different forms of ‘reform’ or ‘neo’ Hinduism. Generally small scale and elite, such movements have nonetheless had a wider influence on Hinduism. 
  • At the same time traditional Hinduism persists in the modern world, in some cases revivified by new media such as film and television. Hindu Gods and Goddesses, in temple and in home shrine, are as popular as ever. Gurus have also become increasingly important in modern times, teaching a wide variety of yoga-based techniques in India and the west.
  • Caste sits uneasily with modernity, and gender roles often continue to follow traditional stereotypes. Feminized divinity continues to give scope for female spirituality.
  • Hindu concerns are important in Indian politics, but the ideal of India as a secular state has not been overturned.


  • For Asian Buddhism, modernity and postmodernity have involved radical socio­economic changes which in many cases have severed Buddhism from its traditional institutionalized support systems.
  • There is continuity in some aspects of monastic organization in the modern world: in presentations of Buddhist doctrine in terms of morality, meditation and wisdom; in traditional models for the religious path; and in the range and flexibility of religious practices.
  • Changes in socio-political, economic, technological and communication systems have engendered rethinking and reworking of the religious heritage, including reassessments of monastic and lay relations and roles, of Buddhist scholarship, gender relations and social and political involvements.
  • Several new developments in Buddhism have been related to the internationalization or globalization of Buddhism: increased communication between Asian Buddhists as well as the expansion of Buddhism into Western countries.


  • The dominant Sikh response to the modern world was conditioned by the need to enforce clear definitions of authority and community in the face of the double challenge of colonialism and of neo-Hinduism.
  • The emphasis of this response, chiefly formulated by a lay Punjabi leadership and justified in terms of historic religious mission, was on securing institutional and political change in the Punjab.
  • Further changes in the modern world, including the establishment of a very substantial Sikh diaspora in the West, are calling into question the adequacy of the earlier response and its underlying justifications, and are starting to provoke fresh responses.


  • There are three main written religious traditions in China: 1. Ancestral veneration, filial duty, reciprocity and the importance of rites, associated with the teaching of Confucius; 2. The disciplines and rituals of harmonisation with the cosmic order, called Daoism; 3. Mahayana Buddhism and the rituals and disciplines of merit-making for reincarnation and salvation from purgatory.
  • They are eclectically mixed, and have influenced each other deeply in the course of the millennium of slow modernity from the tenth century under an established imperial bureaucracy and its literati.
  • They are also mixed with a great number of vernacular traditions and local cults and festivals.
  • Running through both written and vernacular traditions are a number of cosmological principles and their personifications as deities. They include Tian (celestial order), the internal creativity of the universe out of its own origin, human agency in the harmonisation of celestial and earthly orders, the complementarity of Yin and Yang, effective and communicative response beyond death between Yin and Yang, and the potential for both order and disorder in human demonic power and material energies, benign and malign, in a universal condition of constant change.
  • The imperial state sought control by authorisation of religious orthodoxies and suspicion of what it had not authorised.
  • Since at least the sixteenth century there has been a growth of lay religious communities, evangelical and syncretic, but the most common lay religious communities were those based on ancestral graves or halls and on local temples, a great many of which have been revived after their destruction in the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
  • Rule by secular, modernising and atheist states in the twentieth century has established much h2er powers of supervision over religious teaching and activity.
  • At the end of the twentieth century this was accompanied by ethnic nationalisation of Chinese and non-Chinese traditions, drawing local traditions into national narratives.
  • There has also been an increase in contrasting religious styles. One of them is congregational religion, Buddhist and Christian, in which women predominate. They may develop into large-scale non-governmental organisations of poverty relief, education and other kinds of charitable engagement in the world.
  • The other style is self- and family-centred consultation of spirit-media, or by fengshui and exercises to accumulate and strengthen qi to change luck and cure spiritual and physical sickness.


  • Japanese religiosity is characterized by low levels of self-initiated affiliation with a religious institution but high levels of participation in religious rites and practices.
  • Throughout much of Japanese history, Buddhist, Shinto, Confucian, and other religious elements have been combined, forming a kind of common religion that is still characteristic of Japanese religion today.
  • In the modern period, a large number of New Religious Movements have emerged, providing a means to express traditional religious beliefs and practices in ways adapted to the changing modern situation.


  • Jewish legal and historical tradition have supplied many themes and motifs which are central in modern reconstructions of Judaism, not least those of law, covenant, exodus and redemption; divine destruction and punishment; the promised land; the Holocaust.
  • The three most important movements in modern (religious) Judaism are Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. 
  • The Reform movement has a particularly important place in the story of Judaism’s interactions with modernity, not only because it was highly permeable to modern ideas and institutions, but because the other main movements of modern Judaism were often reacting to reform.
  • Judaism’s initial interaction with modernity begins in the eighteenth century with Moses Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn began the process of trying to recreate or rethink Judaism in response the ideas and philosophies of the Enlightenment. Although he was seen by later movements as heralding the beginnings of reform, many of the issues which he addressed were fundamental to the other Jewish movements as well.
  • The three major movements of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism are distinguished by their responses to many of the challenges posed by modernity, such as individualism, authority and the role of women. An underlying issue concerns identity, conceived in terms of Jewish particularism versus accommodation to Western philosophies and Western ways of living.
  • Contemporary Judaism is as deeply divided as at anytime in its history. Extreme Orthodoxy flourishes alongside a growing liberalism—the latter even showing some affinities with movements like New Age. Whilst the former tries to exclude modern values and ideas, the latter embraces them.


  • The historical sources and resources of Christianity include the Bible, Jesus Christ and the institution of the church—each of which has been interpreted in widely varying ways over more than two millennia of Christian history.
  • Most Christians accept the authority of Bible, tradition, church but in varying combinations and with different emphases.
  • Christianity in modern times may be divided into several types: Roman Catholic (liberal and conservative), Orthodox, liberal Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, Fundamentalist, Charismatic/Pentecostal. There is recent convergence between the Evangelical and Charismatic.
  • Each of these types has interacted differently with modernity. Conservative Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy have been most resistant, liberalism the most co-operative. Evangelicalism and Charismatic Christianity have both opposed some aspects of modernity whilst accommodating others.
  • The centre of gravity of Christianity is shifting from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere. 
  • There has been a ‘subjective turn’ in late modern Christianity and a growing tendency to get involved in politics, particularly in opposition to secularism. These two trends towards the personal and the political appear to be compatible.


  • Although Islam is today spreading in Europe and North America, Muslims historically have belonged overwhelmingly to the non-Western world. The experience of ‘modernity’ for Muslims, therefore, was bound to differ from that of Christians in the West.
  • Islamic revivalist movements in the eighteenth century set the tone of later modernist developments in a call for a ‘return to the sources’ and the use of independent judgement towards them.
  • Modernist reformers confronted European colonialism and the modern values and institutions which it brought; the debates in response throughout the twentieth century reflect historical change on the patterns of ‘tradition-in-modernity’ and/or ‘modernist-as-tradition’.


  • There is a great diversity of indigenous religions in Sub-Saharan Africa but there is also the longstanding presence of Christianity and Islam in particular areas since the 4th century CE and, at least, the 9th century CE respectively.
  • Indigenous religions found in sub-Saharan Africa include a complex and variable range of social phenomena that do not easily correspond to western institutional categories of the religious, political, economic, judicial and social.
  • Indigenous religions emphasize participation and are also open-ended in that they allow individuals to acquire alternative forms of religious experience from different sources and according to need and inclination. They focus on the wellbeing of the community or social grouping and for this reason often emphasize explanation, prediction and control of events. 
  • Mass-conversion to Christianity and Islam took place at the beginning of the twentieth century in response to the consequences of colonialism and the impact of missionaries, although at this time in some areas Christianity was embraced as a resource associated with the ‘modern’ benefits of colonialism whereas in other areas peoples converted to Islam (which often already had a longstanding presence) as a means of resistance to these hegemonic colonial encroachments.
  • Mass-conversion to the world religions of Christianity and Islam did not result in the disappearance or exclusion of indigenous localized forms of religion nor a syncretization of indigenous and the world religions; but rather there is often a compartamentalized positioning of individuals in relation to both indigenous religions and either Christianity or Islam.
  • The dynamic and creative forms of religious experience deriving from sub-Saharan African social and cultural contexts, characterized by renewals and revitalizations, has resulted in the Africanization of the world religions in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The Africanization of Christianity is helping to shape its world-wide forms both in its orthodox Protestant and Catholic denominations and also its more radical evangelical modes, while sub-Saharan African forms of Islam are engaged in closer international links with the rest of the Islamic world, especially northern Africa and the Middle East.
  • Indigenous religions of sub-Saharan Africa, which were carried across the Atlantic to the Americas with the African diaspora to develop new forms, have expanded enormously (and contrast with an eurocentric Christianity); they also attract new adherents who have no claims to it by descent, literal or figurative.   


  • Native American religions are adaptive, flexible, culturally localized traditions that are based more on experience than dogma, and more ‘spatial’ than ‘linear’.
  • Linear traditions are those focused on time and its linear progression, focused on the working out of the ‘divine plan’ at the expense of the natural world, spatial traditions are those which arise from a relationship with a specific geographical location, and which orient themselves around that relationship.  Place is more important than time.
  • Missionization functioned as part of the larger process of colonialism in the United States.
  • Missionaries saw native religions as childish, archaic, simplistic paganism.
  • Native Americans practiced agency in their relationships with missionaries, accepting parts of their religions, but rejecting others, based on their ability to correlate them with the beliefs they already had.
  • Prophets and prophetic movements function as social critique, evaluating changes that occurr, and devising new responses based on the syncretism of old and new ideas.
  • The Ghost Dance movement, probably the best known Native American religious movement, was adapted by each group that practised it, in order to make it culturally relevant.
  • Changes in the Potlatch ceremony were a logical response that allowed natives in the Pacific Northwest to participate in the market economy while also maintaining cultural and spiritual traditions.
  • Native Americans have been stereotyped as being more ‘in touch with nature’ when in fact their environmental knowledge has been cultivated over long cultural and spiritual relationships with places.
  • Religious freedom is a critical issue for Native Americans, who do not separate religious beliefs from religious actions.
  • The issue of repatriation centers around issues related to Native American burial remains, particularly those in museums and collections.
  • Participation in the New Age movement and hobbyism are ways that non-natives have appropriated Native American spiritual traditions.
  • The Native American Church is one of the largest religious movements among natives today, and shows integration of traditional ideas with Christianity.


  • arises in the nineteenth century from a value-laden contrast between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’
  • emphasises the importance of inner, subjective, ineffable experience over against the ‘externals’ and ‘formalities’ which are said to characterize traditional forms of religion
  • authorizes the individual to be the final arbiter of spiritual truth
  • is characterized by a ‘holistic’ emphasis on the interconnectedness of the self and all things, and an emphasis on self-in-relation
  • emphasizes the immanence of the sacred, which is often understood to manifest itself in and through nature and the body
  • places value on ‘seeking’, and tries to maintain an open and tolerant attitude towards other spiritual ‘paths’
  • promotes practical, often embodied, means and techniques for attaining spiritual insight
  • displays a tendency to embrace ‘progressive’ and ‘anti-establishment’ causes, and a discourse of ‘freedom’ or ‘liberation’ (though there can also be right wing forms of spirituality)
  • takes an increasingly wide variety of forms, including ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ practices, New Age, and paganism
  • there are some recent signs of rapprochement between some forms of spirituality and some forms of theistic religion
  • although the percentage of the population highly active in Spirituality may be as low as 2per cent, it exercises a much broader cultural influence.


  • New Age in a strict sense is the movement born in the context of the post-Second World War UFO cults and flowering in the spiritual utopianism of the 1960s and 1970s.
  • New Age in a wide sense is the general ‘cultic milieu’ of alternative religion which flourished after the 1970s and has become increasingly ‘mainstream’ since. Dominated by American spiritual values and ideas, it is more individualistic and ‘self’ focused than New Age in a strict sense.
  • The roots of New Age are to be found in (a) Renaissance Hermeticism and Western esotericism, which themselves draw on earlier pagan, Jewish and Christian sources; and (b) occultism, which represents the early ‘secularization’ of esotericism under such pressures as the Enlightenment and the rise of science.
  • Recent New Age has been influenced by a consumerist, market-led cultural economy, leading to a focus on ‘spiritual shopping’ and spiritual self-development.
  • The success of the New Age lies in its rapid assimilation into more mainstream culture, and its congruence with the values of the latter.


  • Paganism is a new religion, initiated in the mid-twentieth century
  • Paganism is a ‘nature religion’
  • Paganism draws on historical information about ancient religions
  • Paganism is expressed in many different sub-movements or ‘traditions’
  • The trend towards localisation and indigenization, expressed in the centrality of ritual practice, offer a challenge to the disenchanting project of modernity


  • New religious movements have always been a part of the social landscape, though we are just now beginning to realise the potential they represent for understanding larger aspects of the human religious impulse.
  • New religions embody the same hopes and dreams that have animated religious consciousness around the world for millennia. Although we often see them as strange or fear them as deviant, new religions exhibit the same innovative theological impulse that has marked religious evolution throughout history.
  • New religions suffer the same failures and disappointments as their more culturally dominant cousins, and they are no less prone to abuse and exploitation than many other human institutions—and only rarely more so.


  • Some theories of religion and globalization think of recent religious resurgence in terms of the reassertion of ‘traditional’ religion in the face of secular modernity. It is suggested here that it is possible to think of interactions between religion and globalization in other ways.
  • A starting point is to emphasize religion’s role in creating, upholding, permeating, and puncturing boundaries – between groups, societies, ethnicities etc.
  • It is possible to distinguish between a cosmopolitan globalization of religion in which institutional and popular forms of religion cross-fertilize one another (e.g. Catholicism in South America) and a global dynamic in which global religious movements and cultures create h2 transnational ties of belonging and similarity, while emphasizing the boundaries between their followers and their social environment. They accentuate transnational homogeneity (e.g. Political Islam and innumerable evangelical and Charismatic churches.
  • There are examples which combine elements of both these patterns of religious globalization.


  • Religions in the more secularized West are ‘de-privatising’ and attempting to influence the political process and issues of moral conscience.
  • There is widespread rejection, especially outside the West, of the secular ideals which still dominate most national policies.
  • Religions appear as champions of alternative confessional options and values, challenging both the legitimacy and autonomy of the main secular spheres: the state, political organization and the market economy.


  • Religions and their sacred texts teach peace and reconciliation, but religious history is one of conflict and violence.
  • Claims to provide absolute truth and eternal salvation and these beliefs can encourage and legitimate holy war and martyrdom on behalf of a faith.
  • Religiously motivated violence can also become an important element in political, civilizational and cultural conflicts.
  • Religious violence can be used to maintain social solidarity by creating a common enemy and can used express historical grievances.


  • Modernization in the West involved a sharp differentiation between men and women and their respective roles, a differentiation which was supported by conservative forms of religion. The rejection of such roles by feminism often led to the rejection of religion, and feminism was seen as a secular movement.
  • Nevertheless, liberal and radical forms of religion in the West have helped men and women renegotiate their identities and relations, and continue to do so.
  • Outside the West, modernization has often been as much a religious as a secular development. One consequence is that even ‘feminist’ women have not always had to choose between being religious and being modern. On the contrary, religion can serve as a powerful agent of modernization and gender transformation.


  • The modern period has witnessed the growing importance of popular culture in everyday life.
  • The study of popular culture is interested in the meanings, discourses, patterns, and structures of everyday life. Hence, the study of religion and popular culture can help us to understand something about ourselves, our values, and our beliefs, as well as the structures of power and the ideological impact of the media.
  • Defining popular culture highlights some key issues and debates, such as the elitist distinction between ‘high culture’ and ‘low culture’, which is clearly articulated in the Christian, class-based analysis of Matthew Arnold, who understood popular culture to be sinful and politically dangerous. Similar understandings of popular culture have shaped the responses of conservative religious groups.
  • There are three relationships between religion and popular culture that repay analysis: religion in popular culture; popular culture in religion; and popular culture as religion.
  • Narrowly theological approaches to the study of religion and popular culture can only take us so far. There is a need for interdisciplinary studies.
  • Some of the most interesting and insightful analyses of popular culture have been developed within cultural studies. While not all scholars of religion and culture will be comfortable with the neo-Marxist theorising informing the research of the Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies in the 1970s, the critical tools and theoretical perspectives that were developed there can help us understand the place of popular culture in contemporary societies, particularly in terms of social and cultural transformation. Is popular culture, for example, a communicator of healthy values or does it contribute to and maintain a ‘false consciousness’? Does it liberate or oppress? Is it, perhaps, a little more complex than either of these positions?
  • The theory of occulture has emerged out of research into both contemporary religious belief and the relationship between religion and popular culture. It identifies a constantly changing reservoir of ideas, images and narratives that provides a resource for new spiritual thinking. Popular culture is central to occulture, in that it contributes, develops, disseminates and animates ideas.


  • Secularization theories attempt both to describe what is happening (religion is declining in the modern world), and to explain it
  • ‘Hard’ versions of secularization maintain that modernization inevitably involves the decline of religion
  • ‘Soft’ versions try to isolate the factors which may lead to the decline of certain kinds of religion in certain circumstances – secularization is seen as contingent not inevitable
  • Multidimensional models of secularization try to isolate the several different senses of secularization
  • Secularization is more evident in Europe than elsewhere, and the hard theories take Europe as their model
  • Challenges to hard secularization theory have come from theorists who treat European secularity as the exception not the norm
  • Secularization may be a normative aspiration as well as a neutral description of reality. In this case, secularism and secularization go hand in hand.
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