The sociology of religion is "between paradigms". The paradigm of secularisation that has dominated thinking about religion in the West since the days of Weber and Durkheim has been called into question, and some rival paradigms have been proposed.
In Religion and Everyday Life , Stephen Hunt guides the reader through this paradigm shift, and identifies the main rivals to secularisation theory as (a) rational choice theory and (b) postmodernist perspectives. Rather than stressing the inexorable decline of religion, both prefer to emphasise religious growth or "sacralisation". The former explains it in terms of the development of a free market that enables religion to flourish in those countries where it operates most effectively - most notably the US. The latter has a more varied approach to explanation and lays emphasis on a range of factors including consumerism, individualism and the decline of grand narratives allowing individuals to construct their own religious packages.
Hunt's approach is to use these competing paradigms as tools to interrogate the state of "everyday religion" in the West while simultaneously testing them by way of their ability to make sense of the contemporary religious scene. In doing so, he takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour of the varieties of contemporary Christianity, fundamentalism, "ethnic religions", "new religious movements", the New Age, "self-spiritualities" and "quasi-religions". Hunt's interesting and plausible conclusion is that secularisation theory has not had its day; it still makes better sense of the contemporary religious field than its rivals.
This book is impressive for its scope and confidence although it hovers somewhere between textbook and monograph, without having the careful introductory pace of the former or the concentrated focus of the latter. It is most suited to advanced students who already have some grounding in the field.
Linda Woodhead is senior lecturer in Christian studies, Lancaster University.
Religion and Everyday Life. First Edition
Author - Stephen Hunt
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 200
Price - £60.00 and £14.99
ISBN - 0 415 35153 7 and 35154 5