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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: March 2012

10 - Pierre Bourdieu and the Sociology of Religion


Introduction: The Secularisation Thesis

Whereas in recent years many of sociologists and philosophers have come to the conclusion that religion has to be taken seriously in debates about modern politics and the public sphere, such was not the case with many post-war social theorists. Louis Althusser, Luc Boltanski, Ralf Dahrendorf, Norbert Elias, Anthony Giddens, David Harvey, Edward Said and Göran Therborn either ignored religion or paid little attention to it, rather than treating it as a central aspect of modern society. Michel Foucault was probably alone in his consistent interest in religion – for example, in his essays on medieval Christian teaching on chastity and in his view of the Iranian Revolution as a form of spiritual politics. On a more personal note, he spoke about ‘spirituality’, that is, the ‘search, practice and experience through which the subject carries out the necessary transformations on himself in order to have access to the truth’ (Foucault, 2005 [2001]: 15). The majority of public intellectuals on the Left in the post-war period ignored religion as a spent force in modernity. What has changed? The obvious answer is that there are various transformations of social and political life that have placed religion as an institution at the centre of modern society. Religion now appears to be closely related to identity politics and has been the ideological driving force behind social movements such as Solidarity, ‘engaged Buddhism’ and Hindu nationalism.

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