Reimagining God and Resacralisation
Series: Routledge Studies in Religion
- ISBN: 9780367147730
- Published By: Routledge
- Published: June 2019
Religions specialist Alexa Blonner opens Reimagining God and Resacralisation, her comprehensive study on the “changing face of religion” (chapter 1) with three claims: First, the “major world faiths” have all experienced dramatic modernization movements; second, there has been a “proliferation of new non-traditional religious forms” (1); and third, she claims that “resacralisation” is the consequence of the “growth in number of the persons who are vacating formal religious involvement,” citing both Christianity in northwestern Europe and Buddhism in Thailand as examples (2). Throughout the book, Blonner shows in great detail that many new religious movements since the “cult boom” of the 1970s and 1980s are an indication that secularization should no longer be misunderstood as a decline of religion.
To substantiate her three claims, Blonner devotes five chapters to different underlying concerns and questions. Chapter 2 examines what she calls the “great emergence,” including the Neo-Christian stream, New Age movements, Neo-Eastern spiritualities, New Thought, and eco-spiritual movements. Chapter 3 discusses the reimagining of “God’s substance, nature and location” across religions (v). Chapter 4 examines the purpose of the new sacred along the lines of utopianism, universalism, and syncretism. In chapter 5, she addresses the question of how contemporary religious movements conceptualize redemption, focusing on individualism, deconstruction, supernaturalism, and “magicalisation.” Through the macro-perspective of her study, which is based on her doctoral thesis on new religious movements, which she completed in 2017 at the University of Sydney, she convincingly demonstrates that the growth of the religious “nones,” those who do not identify with any institutionalized religion, cannot be equated with the decline of religion (2, 4, 6). Blonner argues that, in contrast to a decline of religion, there has been what she calls a process of “resacralisation” (6). For much of the 20th century, it was predicted that religious worldviews would eventually succumb to the challenge of secularist materialism, but this process of secularization has yet to occur.
In the first sentence of the study, Blonner makes her own religious roots clear. With a Catholic upbringing, she acquired an interest in new religions from her personal experience with a Korean group called the Divine Principle (later known as the Unification Church; vii, ix). Although she did not stay with this group, this personal revelation sparked her interest in the major contemporary faiths, their rivals and successors in the religious marketplace, the new religious movements in Asia and beyond. The author’s open treatment of her personal experience arising from the religious scene of the 1970s and 1980s means her study can also be read as a case study in the religious history of the second half of the 20th century. In this role, it takes up a much understudied phenomenon in contemporary religious studies, namely, the aversion to institutional and historical constrictions of “major world faiths” in favor of new religious movements. Yet her study does not examine the phenomenon in depth. In this regard, one hopes she will take up this question in greater detail in her future work.
As with any overarching attempt to fathom the depths of contemporary religious phenomena from a macro-perspective, there are numerous points one could take issue with.
First, while she criticizes the terms “resacralisation and “re-enchantment,” the central role she attributes to “resacralisation” may mislead her readers into believing that the phenomenon of a secularization—misunderstood as a decline in religion—has been present in earlier epochs (such as the Enlightenment) (2). Here, her interpretation would have benefited from an excursus into her understanding of early modern versus modern religiosity. Her study shows once more that any understanding of contemporary religion requires a thorough understanding of modernity, both theologically and historically.
Second, she partly succumbs to the secularization theory she rejects when she asserts that the “resurgence of religious interest in former Communist countries since the 1990s further shook the theory [i.e., the secularization thesis]” (2). Evidently the author does not consider the question to what extent communism itself bears traits or may even be considered a modern (political) religion with a strong emphasis on salvation (see, for example, Sam McFarland, “Communism as Religion,” The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 8.1 : 33–48).
Third, while discussing “Ecumenicalism” as well as the question of the “nones,” Blonner does not mention the related struggle of contemporary religion with diverse forms of liberalism. She avoids questions of religion and politics in general and political theology in particular. The problem with this oversight is that there exists a close relation between theological and political liberalism in Western Christianity (cf. Stephen D. Johnson and Joseph B. Tamney, eds., The Political Role Of Religion In The United States, Routledge, 2019).
Fourth, the terminological rift between spirituality and religion deserves more attention, especially since the book is marketed as a “bold examination of contemporary spirituality that will appeal to academics and scholars of religious studies, new religious movements and the sociology of religion” (i).
This well-edited monograph contains endnotes at the end of each chapter, a useful chapter summary of chapter 2, a bibliography, and an index. Overall, Blonner’s work not only contributes to the religious side of the history of the present, but also adds a further facet to the growing field of a global history of religions, reminding readers of the particularities and many very personal trajectories across the multiple worlds of contemporary religious experience.
Philipp Reisner is visiting lecturer in American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany.Philipp ReisnerDate Of Review:September 26, 2021