Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the view that religion no longer actsas a ‘shared universe of meaning’ for people today
With an ever increasing interconnected and global society, the fundamental basis on which religion is built upon appears to have somewhat deteriorated. Whereas in pre-industrial societies, religion acted as a provider of shared norms and values, it is now much more an aspect of consumer culture. Some sociologists disagree with this view however.
As Berger states in the item, religion acts as a sacred canopy which stretches over society in order to help those in times of crises. This seems to reflect the study of the Trobriand Islanders which Malinowski undertook. In this study, he found that the islanders used 'canoe magic' to help deal with the danger of sea fishing. It also helped promote social solidarity in times of life crises, such as death. Marxists would reject this theory, notably Marx himself, who states that religion merely acts as an 'opiate of the people', oppressing the proletariat further for the interests of the bourgeoisie. It would appear that the Marxists reject the view that religion acts as a 'shared universe of meaning', as the meaning it offers to the working class is vastly different to the meaning it offers to the ruling class. Parsons however, another functionalist, would argue that actually, religion is able to answer life's many questions that science appears unable to answer, such as why there is suffering in the world. In this essence therefore, it could be argued that religion does act as a shared universe of meaning.
Durkheim however looks at industrialisation and the increasing division of labour, and how this has actually led to a reduction on the influence of religion in society, and as a result, no longer acts as a shared universe of meaning. Durkheim states that in a pre-industrial society, there was mechanical solidarity, where solidarity was maintained by everyone being of the same identity. In a more industrial society, organic solidarity has emerged, in which solidarity is created by interdependence between members of society. Durkheim goes further, and states that religion is less important as a provider of shared norms and values, and instead, education has been able to act as a 'shared universe of meaning'. Durkheim's theory appears to be in line with the increasing secularisation in society, and Weber would argue that society now focuses on rationalisation, in which people look for the most efficient ways of achieving goals, as well as the increasing importance of bureaucratic organisations in a capitalist society. Weber states that religion is not able to prioristise actions that are designed to achieve goals, and because of its inability to fit this model, has declined in influence. Durkheim and Weber therefore argue that secularisation has occured because religion no longer acts as a shared universe of meaning.
Society has now become more and more individualistic; a result of increasing globalisation. Bruce argues that modernity emphasises individualism, and that New Age movements are an extreme version of individualism. Heelas describes how New Age movements are about 'self-spirituality', and people look to themselves for guidance. Heelas also stated that New Age movements reject traditional sources of authority, such as churches, and now, people are responsible for their own spiritual path. With the ever increasing popularity of New Age movements, religion can no longer act as a shared universe of meaning, because individual spirituality will differ from one person to another. Drane argues that New Age movements have increased in popularity because science has failed to answer lifes questions. Drane appears therefore to agree with Parsons, however Drane instead argues that because people are looking to themselves for spiritual answers, religion can no longer act as a shared universe of meaning.
Lyon also takes a modern approach to the question, and argues that globalisation has allowed for us to have greater choice over out spiritual pursuits. He states that religion is another aspect of consumer culture, and that people no longer wish to possess the narrative for religion, and the authority that is attached. His argument that we can now 'pick and choose' is supported by a finding in Canada, that 75% of people do not attend church regularly, but 80% state they are religious. Religion is no longer a shared universe of meaning because it people are now able to pick and choose aspects of religion they wish to follow.
Overall, it can be argued that globalisation has been the largest factor in the decline of religions ability to act as a shared universe of meaning. Society now emphasises individualism, and as a result, what may hold value to one individual may not do so for another.