Putting Baby Back in the Bath

In view of preceding discussions, an understanding of modernity of sufficient analytical purchase, inclusivity and nuance to be of use to the contemporary sociology of religion must thereby meet at least three mutually complementary requirements. First, the conceptualisation of modernity must do more than reflect the de facto prevailing features of a progressively globalising modern landscape. Rather, it must capture the definitive characteristics which mark modernity as a historically novel social formation and epochally significant mode of being in the world. In keeping with established sociological method (see Weber 1949, 1968), the mode of capture involves a form of inductive abstraction in which the defining characteristics of modernity are constituted as conceptual approximations of otherwise concrete empirical phenomena identified by way of historical comparison (between then and now) and contemporary multiperspectivalism (both here and there). Modernity, then, is neither ahistorically determined nor defined relative to a normative set of socio-cultural expectations. Rather, and arising inductively through an act of theoretical abstraction, the viability of modernity as an analytical construct rests firmly upon its empirical fit with actual conditions on the grounds. Furthermore, as the empirical features by which modernity is defined undergo change, so too must their theoretical approximation.

Second, any viable understanding of modernity must be sociologically effectual. As noted above, modernity may be defined relative to a range of political processes, economic structures and philosophical approaches to the world at large. Though by no means excluding such features as inconsequential to a fuller conceptualisation of modernity, a feasible sociological definition must, at the very least, shed an immediate and thoroughgoing light upon characteristically modern enactments of the self-society, agency-structure relationship (see Archer 1996). Consequently, while previously identified notions of the 'nation-state', 'market economy' and 'autonomy of man' make valuable contributions, a sociologically efficacious conceptualisation of modernity must also include aforementioned dynamics such as rapid, widespread and ongoing societal transformation, structural differentiation, detraditionalisation, socio-cultural pluralisation, individualisation and globalisation.

Third, and likewise in respect of agency-structure relations, an understanding of modernity of use to the sociology of religion should also grasp the manner in and extent to which the defining features of the current epoch play out through regionally specific contexts and local configurations by way of mutually implicating macro-structural dynamics, mid-range institutional processes and micro-social interactions. In so doing, the socio-cultural variegation engendered by local instantiations of globalising modernity (polythetically understood) will be open to appreciation not only as actual variations on the modern theme but also as possible modifications thereof. In combination with the other two definitional requirements, the concern to identify and understand modernity as a globalising yet regionally instantiated phenomenon goes a considerable way to underwriting its conceptualisation in a manner which steers a workable via media between the twin extremes of uncritical universalisation and granular provincialism. Bringing these points together, and in view of preceding discussions, modernity may thereby be conceptualised as: a historically novel social formation and existential mode of being in the world constituted by the ongoing and transformative interaction of a range of epochally significant dynamics, structures and processes (e.g. nation-state, market economy, rapid, widespread and ongoing transformation, structural differentiation, detraditionalisation, socio-cultural pluralisation, individualisation and globalisation) which manifest concretely through regional/local instantiations of a macro-structural, mid-range institutional and micro-social nature.

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