Monday, November 8, 2010

Sacred and secular (2004) - Norris and Inglehart

Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2004). Sacred and secular : religion and politics worldwide. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.

While the previous book (Religion and Politics in the United States, Wald & Calhoun-Brown, 2011) deals with the relationship between religion and politics in the context of one nation (i.e., USA), this book deals with the relationship in the international context.

The main argument is that secularization becomes important in developed countries, but religion becomes more and more important in under-developed (or un-developed) countries. The result is, according to Norris and Inglehart, interesting because the non-believers are decreasing (due to secularization in the rich countries) while believers are increasing (due to the emphasis of traditional values in religions in the poor countries).

Especially, new social controversies in Western European countries and the United States are about the paradoxical two trends (secularization and low fertility rate VS religious dominance and high fertility rate). For example, UK and France recently observe decreasing fertility rate and (have to) need new population from other countries (mostly non-European and non-traditional religion believers). New conflicts, thus, have to show multi-layered contradictions (“minority – foreign religions – poor” versus “majority – Christian – rich or was-rich”).

In general, the book is well-written (i.e., used easy and clear terms) by two great empirical positivists. Usually, empirical positivists’ writing, I believe, is easy to read. This is a great virtue of this book, unlike other books dealing with religion and politics authored by pure theorists. While some of the expressions seem redundant, I like the redundancy which makes the whole idea much clearer.

While the data sets and analyses of the relationship between religion and social values, political status, and other macro-level indices seem interesting (or clear, in the authors’ terms), the general impression on my brain was not so telling. First and foremost, Weberian and Durkheimian understanding of religion is too much simplified. Personally, I do not believe that those so-called classic sociological ideas can be tested via (relatively crude) survey polls or national indexes. This seems a kind of greed, I believe. I am not sure whether the operationalization does reflect what Weber or Durkheim wants to define… Actually, those big names were born and dead before the birth of hypothetical testing. Testing would be fascinating idea in some areas, but not always, in my poor thoughts.

My thought on this book …. Good book, but not the best book.

PS: What is the role of statistics when studying the relationship between religions and politics? Obviously, so-called liberal pluralism is mainly motivated by the number, but religion can be reduced into some operational (or statistical) measures? This question is not to criticize the authors’ position (actually, some of my research relied statistics or statistical justifications TOO MUCH), but to refresh my minds in order to be alive and not to be crunched by naïve inertia which is frequently called as ‘statistical or systematic research…..’

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