Increase in No Religion and Defining Religion
MModak at mc.edu
Sun Aug 7 20:13:50 PDT 2005
Interpreting polls relating to levels of religious belief or
participation raises the difficult and thorny question of defining
religion. Most empirical scholarship on this question in sociology and
political science also avoids this question or offers a very narrow
definition of religion as "belief in God." Failing to define religion
is also a common feature of legal discussions of the religion clauses
and law and religion more broadly. I am not suggesting that empirical
and legal scholarship can decide the question of the nature of religion
or that they must become analytic philosophers. Conversely, I am
suggesting that the multiplicity of meanings of the term religion make
it essential that scholars identify their presuppositions about religion
for both empirical or legal scholarship. Failing to define religion
seriously weakens both empirical claims and legal arguments. For
example, if you ask 10 people whether they are "religious," you may have
10 different definitions of religion presupposed by the respondents.
Likewise, if you ask 10 readers of an article on the religion clauses
whether the analysis is sound, their conclusions may be based on
definitions of religion which are different from the authors
presuppositions about religion. Some may think your religious only if
you participate in the life of a religious community (i.e., religion is
essentially communal or social)(e.g., Durkheim). Others may think your
religious only if you belief in God or a particular understanding of God
(i.e., religion is primarily creedal). Still others may think that your
religious only if you have had a "religious" experience (i.e., religion
is experiential)(e.g., William James). Further, others (like myself)
may think that one of the things that sets humans off from other animals
is their capacity to construct belief systems regarding what it means to
be human (ethical aspect) and the nature of reality (metaphysical
aspect). See Schubert M. Ogden, Is There Only One True Religion or Are
There Many? (1992). To the extent that individuals have a
self-understanding and an understanding of reality, they are religious.
This broad understanding of religion is precisely what Paul Tillich's
notion of religion as an ultimate concern focuses on, which the Supreme
Court latched onto in the conscientious objector cases (Seeger & Welsh).
Other scholars of religion and scholars in other fields like cultural
anthropology (Geertz) frequently advocate a very broad understanding of
religion. The plurality of understandings of religion makes most
empirical analysis of whether people are "religious" hard to interpret.
Do they mean "traditionally" religious? If so, is the relevant
tradition Christianity? Is the relevant tradition conservative
evangelical Protestant Christianity or liberal Anglican Christianity?
If the scholars are involved in an inquiry about religion, why don't
they tell subjects what they mean by religion? Some empirical work
tries to avoid this problem by asking people if they believe in "God"
(as if there are not a multiplicity of notions of God), or whether they
"pray", believe in "heaven", go to church, etc. See, e.g. Pippa
Norris & Ronald Inglehart, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics
Worldwide (Cambridge 2004)(analyzing numerous empirical studies to
determine whether the secularization thesis is valid). Problems still
exist in defining "God," "prayer," etc. Also, scholars seem to move
quickly from a survey asking whether individuals "believe in God" to
saying they are religious without noting the narrow theistic definition
of religion they are presupposing. As mentioned above, I raise this
question about defining religion in empirical scholarship to also raise
the question of why the discussion of religion is not more sophisticated
in legal scholarship. Religion scholar and lawyer Winnifred Fallers
Sullivan recently noted: "For the most part, legal academics, lawyers,
legislators, judges, and theorists of religious freedom have simply used
'religion' as a placeholder in a sentence, finessing the awkwardness and
messiness of what lurks there." Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, The
Impossibility of Religious Freedom 102 (Princeton Univ. Press 2005).
There are definitely exceptions, but I am asking why legal scholars have
tended to assume that the religion clauses and Supreme Court cases
analyzing these clauses can be analyzed without defining religion.
Further, when religion is defined, why are judges and law review
articles more authoritative than religion scholars, sociologists,
anthropologists, or other scholars who usually have more academic
training and expertise regarding religion? Mark Modak-Truran, J.D.,
Associate Professor of Law
Mississippi College School of Law
151 East Griffith Street
Jackson, MS 39201
(601) 925-7159mmodak at mc.edu
>>> DLaycock at law.utexas.edu 8/6/2005 4:27:26 PM >>>
Re the posts on the increase in people reporting no religion:
There is an excellent collection and analysis of data in Michael Hout
and Claude S. Fischer, Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference:
Politics and Generations, 67 Am. Soc. Rev. 165 (2002).
The increase appears in many surveys and is apparently real; those
who say none in response to questions about religious preference went
from about 7% in 1991 to about 14% in 1998. Nearly all of these people
report none or very little religious participation. But 2/3 of them
report conventional theistic beliefs, and questions about belief -- do
you believe in God or a universal spirit, etc. -- have shown nothing
like the change that appears on the religious preference question.
Interpretation is uncertain, but after much statistical analysis,
Hout & Fischer conclude that the data show increasing alienation from
organized religion more than increasing religious skepticism. This is
partly a cohort effect; young adults have less religious affiliation
than the older generation they are replacing. And Hout & Fischer
believe it is partly a negative reaction to the prominence of the
religious right; in the view of many moderates and liberals with weak
religious affiliations, religion has become unpleasantly associated with
political conservatism. The principal evidence for that interpretation
is that the increase in no preference appears entirely among
self-reported moderates and liberals -- no change among self-reported
conservatives -- and it occurred at a time of high visibility for
conservative religious politics.
University of Texas Law School
727 E. Dean Keeton St.
Austin, TX 78705
This message has been scanned by GWGuardian
on GWGuardian.mc.edu and found to be virus free.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the Religionlaw