Ireland is Changing Mother: Contextualising the Changing Nature of Religious Belief

The paper is posted on this site for the convienience of conference participants. This paper is a work in progress so please limit the circulation to those who attended the conference. Copying the paper onto blog sites may create formating problems so please be considerate of this when you are reading the content. Conference participants are invited to post comments to stimulate a discussion between participants however the author will not be replying to posts in this instance.

Conference: Changing Leadership and Enduring Values

Title: Ireland is Changing Mother: Contextualising the Changing Nature of Religious Belief

Facilitated by the United Dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert

Saturday, 21st April 2012

Fr. Alan Hilliard M.Soc.Sc. (Applied Social Policy)

 

Introduction

From a faith perspective, a study of sociology and social policy provides very helpful insights into the manner in which the life of faith and its practise is contextualised. The study can also examine how this context can impact on the religious faith that one cherishes, holds or leaves aside. At the outset of this talk I’d like to state that there is strong evidence in sociology to suggest that there is evidence of growth in the sector. There are certain characteristics of that growth that are worth noting which can be applied by across the board This paper will show allude to these trends at a later stage of the presentation.

The need to approach religious faith differently is alluded to in a poem entitled Education by Brendan Kennelly:

I am not transmission

I am transformation,

or so the happy Indian philosopher says.

But look at the experts.

When one o’ them stands before you

he transmits and you learn

He knows he knows, and if you

don’t know he knows, you know

nothing.

The Indian says he heard of a man

so eager to get to the top

he laboured hard for forty years

Until he reached the summit of his dreams.

he looked all about him and found

nothing.

That’s where transmission led him,

he came back down, went to New York

and became a taxi-driver.

He enjoyed driving strangers whose faces

Were transformed by a new kind of hope

In a city of possibility[i].

The aim of this paper is to bring this gathering to the beginnings of the path that leads to ‘a city of possibility’. It might be too much to expect that when a person leaves this conference today that he or she may be transformed by a new kind of hope, however if this gathering feels they can glimpse hope and the means by which this hope can be articulated and achieved it will have been deemed a success. I know the organisers of this conference want the theme of Changing Leadership and Enduring Values to be couched in the language of transformation, not transmission. This is an immense challenge to those who are presenting today. It raises high expectations and runs the risk that people may leave disappointed. That is why this paper is clear in its remit that it hopes to leave this group with the sense that they have found the beginnings of a path that leads to a ‘city of possibility’.

Sociological Perspective

In order to achieve this, the paper examines what we might term the larger realities. In the first instance this paper will examine how these larger realties influence how we live our lives. We can be like the man reaching the summit of our dreams and finding nothing because we fail to understand or take account of their influence on our lives. By becoming aware of these larger realities we are presented with an opportunity to either use them to our advantage, or to detach from them. It is in this vein that this paper will look at how the concept of Europe affects the our local context. From here we will look at how this overall context impacts on the concept of you and me. The paper illustrates how these larger realities are impacting upon the nature of religious belief and practise. Finally and if we get there, we can begin to indicate how leadership and values need to be transformed in the name of ‘a new kind of hope’.

This approach fits in with what is termed a sociological perspective. There is no doubt that there are many ways of addressing the topic of religion and it’s role from a sociological perspective. There are many factors in society that shape, regulate, advance or support religion. However for the sake of clarity and for the benefit of the gathering here today let us just accept that ‘social perspectives focus our attention on patterns of human life and in the factors that shape it’[ii]. To achieve its purpose, social perspectives often artificially simplify the subject under discussion in order to make the task of analysis less complex. This involves a degree of abstraction from our own complexities and agendas if the task is to be worthwhile and fruitful.

I preface my remarks by highlighting that a lot of my insights come from my work and reflections on migrants and migration. One may wonder what this has to do with the topic today.  The migration perspective is not one that looks solely at migrants; the migration debate immerses one in the larger realities that impact on vulnerable people. This has been outlined in a recent work Paul Scheffer, a social scientist from the Netherlands when he said that;

the debate about migration is so enlightening. A society must win the acceptance of newcomers by seeing their arrival as a reason to measure itself against its own ideals[iii]

Participant’s Perspective

Conferences like this often lessen their impact because the people who attend them are consciously or unconsciously seeking ways to build up their own congregations or they are unconsciously thinking about those people out there, people that we have to ‘get at’ or ‘get in’. Conferences often end with the cry ‘how can we get this message out to the people in the street’. For the duration of this paper and if possible for the duration of the day can we move away from a sense of ‘otherness’. Can we refrain from thinking about ‘them out there’ and think of ‘me’ and ‘us’ in here. Firstly because we are probably the only social factors that we have a degree of immediate control and influence over and secondly because the way that the world is shifting reveals that we ‘in here’, are in as much of a muddle as ‘them out there’. If we can’t muddle through our muddle we won’t be much help to anyone else. As outlined earlier, a sociological perspective demands that we develop a degree of abstraction from our own complexities and agendas.

Left Behind.

There is nothing like a good poet to help us abstract; to stand back from our realties and to examine them. Changing Ireland is captured by the poet Rita Anne Higgins in her work Ireland is Changing Mother

Now the Namibian Gods and the Bally Bane Taliban

Are bringing the local yokels

to their menacing senses

and scoring more goals than Cú Chulainn

Ireland is changing mother

Tell yourself, tell your sons[iv]

There is a sense communicated in this poem that if we peel away the platitudes that pander to our seeming progress as a nation, it appears that rather than progressing there is a growing sense that we are out of control and that people are being left behind. The world as it is currently enfolding, is bringing ‘the local yokels to their menacing senses’.  Yes, Ireland is changing mother, Limerick is changing mother; and it is changing so fast mother that the feeling occupying me more and more is that of a person who is being left behind. Christian Churches spent many years looking after those who have been left behind. But now the Churches themselves are the ones who are feeling left behind and who is ministering to them? When somebody approaches for assistance these days, their plight often opens windows and doors on one’s own uncertainties and insecurities whereas in the past, a person’s plight was fodder for our enthusiastic missions and ministries.  As this paper will show, the uncertainties and insecurities experienced now are not economic ones alone; they more often than not belong to the world of faith, belief and belonging. Ireland is indeed changing mother, tell yourself and tell your sons! Before attempting to examine the sense of being ‘left behind’ this paper will now examine how the larger forces at play in the world are contributing to this situation.

The Impact of Larger Realities.

There is no doubt that globalisation has brought benefits to many. The feeling of being at home in many different places in the world is a reality for some. I heard someone at a conference last week say that they are at home wherever their mobile phone gets a signal! The congruence of nation, state and society is no longer the norm as it was in bygone years and we are all too aware at times that many live in a global society which now transcends national borders. Globalisation, while providing benefits for many has at the same time created difficulties for others. We see this in our own country. There are those that can fly with friends and families to Bordeaux to taste the first grapes and then there are elderly men who can no longer go to the local pub for a social drink. There are others who globe trot to conferences and summits on the theme of environmental destruction using tons of fossil fuels to get there, when others can no longer foot a trailer load of turf for the winter. From the perspective of my own research interest in migration and emigration, I see a large vault opening up between what one might term the plain and simple forced emigrant and the more highly cultivated members of the diaspora. While globalisation creates interconnectedness for some; for many more there is a feeling of being left behind, yes Ireland is changing mother, tell yourself and tell your sons.

This should not come as a surprise as globalisation has served to increase the number of people across the globe who find themselves ‘left behind’. One simple illustration of this point is the fact that in the last two hundred and fifty years, the income ratio between the richest and poorest countries of the world has increased rather than decreased. Over a two hundred and fifty year period the gap has increased from 5:1 to 400:1[v]. One of the greatest analysts of what is termed cosmopolitanism i.e. the way we live as a result of globalisation is the sociologist Craig Calhoun. Calhoun argues that the cosmopolitan ideal of a global civil society ‘can sound uncomfortably like those of the civilizing mission behind colonialism’[vi]. Much of the language of globalisation is framed in the language of economics. Whereas the economic effects can be measured and can be averted to, it is, as the writer Christopher Caldwell reminds us that while the economic effects of globalisation are puny and transitory and ‘the social, spiritual and political effects…are huge and enduring’ [vii].

The implications of these shifts in society for the gathering here today are significant. A conference dealing with the themes of leadership and values could justifiably ask; who is leading the charge on this globalising world and what values are driving those who lead the charge? The task of answering this question is compounded by the fact that systems of governance are less likely to be grounded within specific geographic confines as they were in the past. One view is that;

The logical consequences of globalisation is that the ‘solidarity of communities, which relies on shared territory, disappears and in its place temporary groupings emerge based on shared interests’[viii].

The emerging alliances of shared interests consist of networks that reach far beyond national borders and are to a large degree non-transparent. The shared interests referred to may, for the large part, be at variance with the shared interests of those in this room or those leaders across the world who promotes the values of the Christian Gospel.  The point being made is that the challenge for institutions that subsist in Europe, no matter how large or small, is to define their borders while at the same time being conscious that they are part of larger realties that can affect them in a variety of ways.

 

Societal Muddle

This conflict between local need on one hand and on the other hand the pressure that the larger realities bring to bear on decisions and actions is a major challenge for those charged with nurturing leadership and values. This is particularly true for those in the Churches. It is in fact a societal muddle that we now find ourselves in. The American sociologist José Casanova describes this muddle as a tear at the heart of Europe. Casanova has an interesting perspective on European culture; simply put he proposes that the reason why Europe is a torn place is that it cannot decide what rules it’s heart. As a single entity, Europe is

unable to answer the question whether European unity, and therefore its external and internal boundaries, should be defined by the common heritage of Christianity and western civilization, or by its modern, secular views of liberalism, universal human rights, political democracy, and tolerant and inclusive multiculturalism[ix].

This indecisiveness over her cultural identity contributes to the tear in the fabric of Europe. Casanova is of the view that this tear appears in all discussions about Europe and it’s institutions including its Churches and the lives of its peoples. Time doesn’t permit, but one could do an analysis of this statement in relation to a number of social institution including, migration policy, education, welfare etc. From the perspective of the Churches, Casanova argues that the denominational basis of American religious belief and the Constitutional approach to belief has protected the religious freedom of people and denominations in the United States. This is in marked contrast to Europe which as Casanova’s outlines has a rather more muddled core and foundation. One conclusion that could be made at this stage is that if people or organisations fail to become the determinants of leadership and of the values which their organisations profess they will end up very muddled as will those in their care.

Casanova is not alone in his views. Institutionally, Europe may at times lay claim to its Christian heritage, however there has been a definite shift in its values and its moral code over the last century. The sociologist Ulrich Beck writes about this shift. Beck explains this shift as one from the previous dominant model of morality of duty which was largely informed by the Christian heritage of Europe to one informed by a more secularist, republican, legal mind-set. This shift is a contributory factor to this tear. The moral framework based in its Christian heritage provided Europe and it’s entities including individuals, nations, leadership and their underlying values with a duty based morality. Presently, the growing legal basis and mind-set in Europe is creating a rights based form of leadership and values.

The implications of Casanova and Beck’s insights into the ‘tear’ at the heart of Europe compounded by the loss of a sense of duty has everyone holding onto their rights i.e. their piece of cloth. This is in no doubt a major challenge to those promoting a strong moral viewpoint based on a religious belief framework. Christian moral tradition may promote the rights of individuals or groups but not at the expense of duties. This tear may be the very item that makes you feel left behind like the ‘local yokel’. It is the view of Ulrich Beck’s that what is in actual fact happening is we are creating ‘a legally binding world society of individuals’[x]. This view is not uncommon. Writing on the subject of toleration one of America’s foremost political thinkers observes;

Rates of disengagement from cultural association and identity for the sake of the private pursuit of happiness (or the desperate search for economic survival) are so high these days that all that groups worry about how to hold the periphery and ensure their own future[xi].

The appearance of a society of individuals whose focus is holding onto their piece of cloth before it is torn out of their hands is not a very pretty picture especially for anyone who is trying to frame the role of leadership and is seeking to identify values that will serve to sustain the future well-being of society.

This paper has so far outlined how the larger realities impact on the institutions of Europe including the Churches. How these larger realties impact on the life of individuals within Europe is the subject of the next section.

The Muddled Individual

Writing on the effect of decades of social change in Europe Christopher Caldwell states that the most important value in Europe is democracy. However he goes onto say that there is a striking lack of confidence in the capacity of democracy to address the important issue of values[xii]. This inability contributes to the tendency of people to recourse to individualism. Despite a deeper desire to act out of Christian duty, people find themselves resorting to a form of individualism. More and more those who desire on the one hand to do the dutiful thing are finding themselves acting in an manner quite opposite to their wishes; they find themselves becoming what they most despise. I remind you that Caldwell writes from the perspective of migration. He makes the following observation.

Contrary to widespread suspicions, the old, cushy social contracts, the Europe of stable marriages, plentiful jobs, light policing and frictionless social relations is not being sneakily withheld from Muslim and other newcomers by Europeans who have grown tired of offering it to them. Such a social contract is no longer available to Europeans themselves. For a good number of European natives, particularly working class ones, expulsion from the culture of their parents is the story of their lives[xiii] .

Yes indeed Ireland is changing mother, tell yourself and tell your sons! This then raises the question as to the type of society that we Europeans are being formed and nurtured in. This paper is of the view that whereas globalisation may be driven by economics, the outcomes of the globalised market are far greater than those which economics alone can account for. Termed factors of production, people are agents of social, cultural and religious change. Europeans see that their countries can no longer be saved by the traditional historical political institutions. This is felt most forcibly in their individual lives. They are discovering that being ‘left behind’ no longer has the luxury of being just a financial matter; it is as much emotional, sociological and religious as it is financial. Listen as to how the sociologist Ulrich Beck describes the contemporary Sitz im Leiben. Describing the plight of the individual in our contemporary western society he says;

They are forced to learn how to create biographical narrative of their own and continuously to revise their definition of themselves. In the process they have to create abstract principles with which to justify their decisions. The notion that the ‘personal lives’ of isolated individuals are controlled utterly by social mega-institutions –the state, science, capitalism, the culture industry – is dubious, if only because these institutions are fluid. On the other hand, ‘individuals –  or ‘dividuals’ – are by no means completely identical with or fully integrated into the networks of society. Caught up in the elimination of tradition brought about by the individualisation and globalisation process, individuals are condemned to transform themselves into ingenious tinkerers and do-it-yourself creators of their own unviable identities.  Their lives become a ‘world of worlds’ from which nothing is excluded and where decisions have to be constantly taken in haste. In the world risk society, individuals have lost the necessary distance from themselves to make reflection possible. They are simply no longer in a position to construct linear, narrative biographies.  They spend their lives balancing on a circus high-wire between divorce, losing their jobs, permanent self-praise and flexible entrepreneurship. They are not artists creating themselves but bunglers cobbling an identity together. They improvise, amalgamate and construct ad hoc alliances in order to cope with inexorable demands, such as ferrying the child to the nursery or substituting a menu of one’s own for the ‘weekly poison’. Everything is always on the point of breakdown. Whether it is a question of the ingredients of the evening meal, flight safety, care for the sick, old-age insurance, the EU, the University, peace, the climate or the Middle East, we find ourselves forced to live in a world full of risk in which both knowledge and life opportunities have become uncertain in principle. This is the new immediacy –which poses automatic responses where in earlier times reflection may well have been possible. Everything becomes too close for comfort; stimuli have to be promptly, immediately resisted, ruled out and held in check. A state of emergency has become commonplace and normal. We are looking at a completely normal state of chaos, the normal fragmentation of an individualised existence[xiv].

In this extract, Beck captures the essence of the individual who is left behind. Maybe he captures our individual predicaments. At the beginning of this paper there was a suggestion that we lose the sense of otherness; the words of Beck leave us with little choice The lack of reflection that he refers to is not the reflection that involves taking time out but the sheer impossibility of the act of reflection as the range of outcomes are now beyond the scope of our wildest imaginings. Beck artfully illustrates the life of the individual within a western European context as one whose limited ability to reflect impacts on decisions and narratives of life. People are described as individuals who are cobbling together bits of life rather than ones who create a beautiful canvas. The balancing act is no longer just between budgets but between social chasms. The weariness of constant stimuli causes people to fluctuate between constant response and creative avoidance, and to further fluctuate between the permanent states of emergency and chaos that we create and are created for us.

Similar to Casanova’s tear, Beck’s tensions run across the institutions of Europe. They are to be found in the world of work, churches, trade unions and party politics which ultimately lead to new kinds of ‘combinations and demarcations’. When you stand back from his description of contemporary humanity and society the life of the individual appears cluttered, frustrated and muddled. To further add to the human plight today, Beck sheds a light on our precarious situation when he explains that in the face of these issues people’s expectations are also very high.

One is supposed to discover in the kingdom of one’s own life the very thing that in earlier times was seemed to dwell in paradise: what is sought today is paradise now, in the here and now of one’s own life[xv].

Indeed, Ireland is indeed changing mother, tell yourself and tell your sons. The tear occurring across our institutions and within the life of the individual is at the heart of understanding the task of leadership today and why the articulation of values is an important part of an organisation’s future.

Marking Religion in a Muddled Europe

Looking at the task in hand namely the identification of changing leadership and enduring values we can rightly ask where does this tear and the move to individualism that has brought about muddled societies and muddled individuals leave us? Could this tear or muddleness be the ‘plan of God’ so to speak?’ Could it be the work of the Holy Spirit? To move from theology or devotional language to the language of sociology could it be the case that rather than religion and religious belief collapsing is it more the culturally defined aspects of religious belief are on the decline? In order to preserve itself is religious belief effectively tearing itself away from a secular based culture that is trying to define it according to its own secularizing needs and as such is taking from religious beliefs the ability and right to define itself? Is it that for too long religious belief has been restricted by a very tight fitting garment, measured and cut in part by state institutions? Are some religious leaders more comfortable with the secular shackles of religious belief and practice and less with its religious content? The answers to these questions are the beginnings of the path that was referred to at the outset of this paper. The answers are key to mobilising leadership and identifying values.

These are the types of questions and matters for discussion that one finds in the writings of Olivier Roy. A world renowned authority on Islam and politics he has now turned his attention to the various manifestations of religious belief in contemporary European settings. Roy’s thesis is that there are four elements at play in the interaction between religion and culture. (So that there is no confusion as to his stance on religion,Roy’s view is one that is shared by many sociologists and anthropologists that religion is one of the many symbolic systems and as such ‘is an integral part of any given culture’pg. 28). The four elements are: norms; religiosity; theology and finally, religious markers. The first of these terms namely norms indicate that religions have their own norms which even though may be subject to revision at certain times, for the large part they govern the moral order of the various religions. On occasion and in specific cultural settings, religious and social norms can overlap; on other occasions they can be at odds with one another. Religiosity is defined as faith as it is lived among believers and it is how individuals most often define themselves to the outside world. Theology is a set of beliefs which can be discussed rationally and are in keeping with certain methodologies. Most of the world religions have a theological dimension; there are some that rely more on myth than theology. However, of these four it is the category of the religious marker that is most applicable to this paper.

To understand the concept of a religious marker one must first realise that ‘pure religion’ cannot exist. To the extent that faith exists without culture it is seen as a form of fanaticism. In order to manifest itself, religion creates a culture as it has done in Europe and in other countries within which it subsists. Even within the culture that religion creates religions have to manufacture religious markers to sustain and reproduce itself. It is within this context that Roy defines the religious marker as;

The sign, the action, the name, the heading that endorses the sacredness of an object, area or person[xvi].

Religious Markers

What is of value to this paper is Roy’s observation of the cultural markers ability to nullify the religious marker. He cites examples of these phenomena. For instance in France in the early part of the last century, the Catholic Church was encouraged to become involved with the various social, cultural and sporting activities in the belief that God’s grace was to be found in the ‘profane’ areas of life. This approach was supported by the theologies of people like Dietrich Bonheoffer. These actions in a way contributed to laïcité’s ambition of excluding religion from the public space[xvii]. Similarly, in the era of colonisation religions, both Catholic and Protestant, were initially aids to the colonisation process. Bishops were appointed only with the approval of the colonial power, anyone who set up an independent mission was promptly sent home as was the case of the first Catholic priest in Sydney. In certain branches of Protestantism the view was promoted that one could only enjoy communion with the church if they were manifesting ‘visible civilities’[xviii] i.e. that converts dressed properly and spoke a grammatically correct form of the colonists language. In other words the demonstration of the cultural marker was deemed at times to be as important, if not more important than the religious marker The main point made by Roy from these varying examples is that the belief dimension of religion can be swallowed up by culture, reducing it to a vague form of religiosity at best and at other times reducing religious belief to mere folklore. Putting this phenomenon into the ‘marker’ terminology the religious marker loses its identity becoming just another cultural marker.

This phenomenon is captured beautifully by John O’Brien in one of his poems entitled ‘The Boy from Tangmalangmaloo’. The poem describes a visit by the Bishop to the local bush school where he set about examining the religious knowledge of the students; i.e. checking the strength of the religious marker. One of the questions he asked was ‘what is the significance of Christmas day?’. Without hesitation the boy from Tanmalangmaloo raised his hand and answers; ‘It’s the day before the races, out at Tangmalangmaloo’. While this may be amusing; religious people today can be today disturbed when Easter is more about bunnies and chocolate than death and resurrection and Christmas Day can be reduced to the days before the races out at Leopardstown!

What is interesting to note from our colonial examples that there came a point in time when both Catholic and Protestant missionaries realised that their religious marker was being swallowed up by the cultural marker and steps were taken and revisions were made to address this. Some were happy to continue promoting the cultural marker as they didn’t really understand or know the religious content their mission. Others, over time tried to make themselves independent of the colonial powers and the cultural marker. For the Catholic Church this saw the seeds of Ultramontanism. Fearful of the control of religion by nation states and subsequent erosion of the religious content of their labours, Rome retreated and direct control became the tool of Vatican policy. Within some of the protestant churches there was a marked a shift from a theology dominated by predestination to an ‘Arminianist’ view that salvation was available to the entire human race if people chose to be saved.

For the ordinary Christian, Roy’s insights may help illustrate why it is getting more difficult to find a foothold in society. The sense of a tear in the fabric of society, the sense of being left behind, maybe is less to do with what one might see as a conscious religious bias. Rather it may be as much about a secularist world that finds itself taking possession of and defining the content of the religious markers which in the first place ought to be primarily the prerogative of the religious communities. Churches can collude with non-regligious entities as the content of the religious markers are defined by those who have little knowledge of their value and tradition for a variety of reasons. For instance, the religious marker can be compromised in cases where established Churches may want to hold onto status or funding. The fact that Roy has spent most of his academic life researching the relationship between Islam and politics contributes to his valuable insights. As we are aware Islam is less inclined to have its religious marker compromised by secularist mind-sets and agendas.

The interplay between the religious marker and the cultural marker provides a key to the future. History reminds us that the religious marker refuses to be swallowed up completely by the cultural marker. The evidence of this abounds. In the protestant tradition religious revivalism serves to strengthen the religious marker and similarly the establishment of new religious orders in the Catholic tradition with charisms that challenge the enmeshment of the cultural and religious marker at that specific point in history. Roy show’s that religion and religious belief is always reformulating itself but to do so means it often has to loose ‘its original and incestuous link with culture’. One consoling conclusion that religious people could possibly make in the light of these insights is that the crisis today may be not be just a matter for religious belief and practice alone. It may have more to do with the collapse of contemporary European culture. Religion and religious belief is going over the cliff like the trailer on a car; the challenge is to uncouple the trailer. Maybe this is the gift of this present age. As Roy says;

Secularization and globalisation have forced religions to break away from culture, to think of themselves as autonomous and to reconstruct themselves in a space that is no longer territorial and is therefore no longer subject to politics[xix].

Trends in Religious Markers

This paper aimed to find the beginnings of a path that would take people on a journey towards some sense of a future for those who have an interest in the challenges facing religious leadership and formulating religious values in a contemporary European setting. Whereas the value of the local community is a non-negotiable, one cannot ignore the larger realities that impinge on our daily tasks and efforts. Identifying the religious marker may be seen by some to be a little obvious or predictable but it does raise important issues for established Churches. People can choose to ignore the need to discuss and identify the nature of ‘religious markers’ in the faith life of individuals and communities today at their peril. If churches continue to be enmeshed in the overarching culture from which the religious marker is trying to free itself, refusing to notice the signs of the times, then they will only succeed in leading their flocks into an abyss and into a valueless social entity. What is necessary is to move the search beyond identity to a distinct way of being.  Indeed it is the view of Roy that the discussion and debate about identity has succeeded only in distracting churches from the demands of pastoral engagement. Religious faith and belonging can no longer be presumed to be as it was in the past. Religious markers have to be identified in the midst of people’s muddleness as described earlier. In this regard, debates about identity alone have to cease in favour of a discussion on definite values that point to the sacred and the way the sacred is made manifest in the life of those that profess them.

There are many reasons why those of us engaging this process at this conference should revisit the religious content of the churches. The marker according to Roy, give expression to that which is crying out for expression in the face of a collapsing culture. The marker reinforces the importance and significance of endorsing or re-endorsing the sacredness of a person, an area or an object in signs, actions, names and headings. That which is sacred needs to be raised up and moved beyond the taken for grantedness that recent research has shown to be a characteristic of not only the institutions of Europe but also by the membership of the Churches.

However there is a more compelling reason why one should define religious markers. Those that have done so are thriving. The fastest growing religions in the world are conservative groups on the one hand and evangelical groups on the other. People are walking away from the established religions whose markers are enmeshed in secular mind-sets.

Secularisation mainly erodes unconscious religion: the taken-for-granted, moderate faiths that trade on being mainstream and established[xx].

The religions that are thriving today are religions that have less dependency on clerical overlords, they have named and emphasised what are easily accessible religious markers. Islam is a case in point. The world’s Muslim population has grown from 200 million in 1900 to 1.5 billion today.  Capturing the spirit behind this growing phenomenon the recent publication God is Back reports that

The most common response to the question of what people in the Muslim world most admire about themselves is faithfulness to their religious beliefs. The definition of a lackadaisical Muslim is somebody who prays only once a day[xxi].

The evangelical churches reveal a similar trend. In Brazil the ratio of Protestant evangelical pastors to worshippers is eighteen times higher than the ratio of priests to Catholics[xxii]. The established churches may pride themselves in their intellectual traditions but it is a notable trend that people rely less on intellectual tradition and more on what one might term the emotional engagement of their religious quest. The title of Oliver Roy’s work Holy Ignorance is testament to this. It is not that people set out to reject an intellectual tradition. Those drawn to Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches believe that the presence of the almighty is un-mediated by knowledge[xxiii].

This may sound extreme; however there is a similar trend in Islam as only twenty per cent of Muslims speak Arabic as their first language. Furthermore illiteracy rates are quite high in Arabic countries; as a result approximately forty per cent of those living in Arab countries are unable to read Arabic.  For a religion where the vast majority of its people are unable able to fully access what they are reciting or memorizing; their religion is growing at an extraordinary rate[xxiv]. The fear that Europe has towards Islam is similar to the fear the political establishment in America had of Catholicism in earlier centuries. This fear related not just to the growing numbers among their membership but to the unmeltable nature of their religious markers[xxv]. When looking at the religious markers in the frame of reference of the established churches one is reminded of ‘Christian Europe’s enduring preoccupation with practical ritual and abstract theologizing’[xxvi].

Discussion and Conclusion

The muddleness of life in a European context as outlined in this paper may resonate with some you here in this room. The sense of a tear or a rip in the culture of Europe and felt in the lives of individuals and institutions may help clarify the reasons why many feel left behind. That Ireland is ‘changing mother’ and that we ‘the local yokels’ are being brought to our ‘menacing senses’, may not be news but it may be a relief to understand that our sense of helplessness and isolation is determined by the impact of larger realities. Knowing this, local communities can withstand the impact of these influences if they take responsibility for certain aspects of their lives such as the definition and ownership of religious markers.

As individuals desperately hold onto their piece of the cloth and as Europe subtly creates what Beck terms as ‘ a legally binding world society of individuals’ where do the Churches and those within them stand. Are we trying to grab our bit of the cloth; are we trying to cleave bits together for the sake of an empty historicity and a cosy familiarity or are we trying to shape something new?

The finding that the religious marker is separating itself from a culture that is draining it of life provides an interesting starting point. It is in actual fact, the beginnings of a path that leads to ‘a city of possibility’. The sacred character of the religious marker is a characteristic of growth in religious movements; those within religious organisations that are overly defined by secular culture are witnessing an accelerating decline. It is not the job of individual leaders to tell people where and what the religious markers are today. It is the task of reflective communities to lead one another unapologetically towards a naming and claiming of the sacred in the various strata’s of life. This again is a characteristic of the religions that are growing in membership

One does not have to take an overly scientific view to realise that many people are separating their religious markers from institutional aspects of religions. Even those that do attend church regularly are consciously separating aspects of their lives from the institutions so they can preserve some sense of their integrity. Research shows that those who have left formal religion are not ardent secularists; they actual may still pray, believe in the importance of religion and have no issue with attending church on occasion[xxvii]. The results of the recent survey conducted by the Association of Catholic Priests confirm this. People undergo this process of separation to preserve and protect their God. If established church communities rely on traditional totems to the detriment of the religious markers which capture the presence of the sacred in todays’ world, then established churches will become nothing more than, ‘a religiously bound world society of individuals’ thus manifesting the symptoms of a society in free fall.


[i] Kennelly, Brendan,2009, Reservoir Voices, Northumberland, Bloodaxe Books Limited, pg. 62

[ii] Arweck, Elisabeth and Beckford, James A. Social Perspectives in Woodhead, Linda and Catto Rebecca, 2012 Religion and Change in Modern Britain, Oxford, Routledge. pg 353

[iii] Scheffer, Paul,2007, Immigrant Nations, Cambridge, Polity Press, pg. 320

[iv] Higgins, Rita Ann,2011, Ireland is Changing Mother, Northumberland, Bloodaxe Books. pg 10.

[v] Goldin, I., Cameron, G., Balarajan, M., 2011 Exceptional People, How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pg. 221

[vi] Calhoun Craig, The Class Consciousness of Frequent Travellers: Towards a Critique of Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism IN Vertovec, Stepehn and Cohen, Robin eds, 2008, Conceiving Cosmopolitanism, Oxford, Oxford University Press. pg 92.

[vii] Caldwell, Christopher 2009, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe; Can Europe be the same with different people in it?, London, Allen Lane. Pg. 32.

[viii] Guéhenno, Jean-Marie in Scheffer, Paul, Immigrant Nations, Cambridge, MA: Polity Press. (pg. 105)

[ix] Casanova, José, 2009 Immigration and the New Religious Pluralism IN Levey, Geoffrey Brahm and Modood Tariq,(eds) Secualrism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,( pgs 144-145)

[x] Ibid pg. 66.

[xi] Walzer, Michael 1997 On Toleration, New Haven, CN: Yale University Press. pg. 102

[xii] Caldwell, Christopher,2009, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, London, Penguin Books. pg 261

[xiii] Ibid pg. 282

[xiv] Beck, Ulrich, 2010, A God of One’s Own, Cambridge, Polity Press. pg.124

[xv] Ibid pg 129

[xvi] Roy, Olivier, (2010) Holy Ignorance, London, C.Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd. pg.30

[xvii] Taylor, Charles, Forward: What is Secularism?, IN Levey, Geoffrey Braham and Tariq Modood, 2009, Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pg. xix

[xviii] Ibid (pg 53)

[xix] Ibid pg 2

[xx] Kaufmann,2010, Eric, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth, London, Profile Books Ltd. Pg,253

[xxi] Micklethwait, John and Adrian Wooldridge,2009, God is Back: How the Global Rise of Faith is Changing the World, London, Penguin Books. pg. 278

[xxii] Ibid pg 221

[xxiii] Roy, Olivier, 2010 Holy Ignorance, London, C.Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd. (pg.145)

[xxiv] Micklethwait, John and Adrian Wooldridge,2009, God is Back: How the Global Rise of Faith is Changing the World, London, Penguin Books. pg. 269

[xxv] Kaufmann,2010, Eric, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth, London, Profile Books Ltd. Pg,184

[xxvi] Davies, Douglas J., Changing British Ritualization IN Woodhead, Linda and Rebecca Catto, 2012 Religion and Change in Modern Britain, Oxford, Routledge. pg 204

[xxvii] Putnam, Robert D. and David F. Campbell, 2010, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, pg. 176. Rick Warren is one of Americas most successful evangelists. His church emphasises the following issues: leadership training for pastors, addiction recovery based on the bible; an AIDS initiative; humanitarian aid to the developing world; fostering public dialogue, care for orphans and a program to oppose religious persecution. Putnam and Campbell wrote that even though he is a social conservative his churches do not include mention of issues like abortion, gay marriage or other such issues which have preoccupied fundamentalist churches.

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