Religion and Emergent order

Berger, Peter. A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity. New York: Anchor, 1992. 218 pp.

Particularly chapters 1 : “Secularization and Pluralism” and 3 “The West and the Challenge of Cultural Pluralism” continue Berger’s analysis of religion in an open and competitive environment, though this colors the entire volume. Berger is unusual in being a major sociologist who takes religion seriously as an ever present dimension of the world, and does not try and reduce it to psychological explanations. At the same time, his analysis is of a kind of emergent order in that practices and institutions characteristic of liberal modernity, especially the market and liberal politics, act back upon themselves, transforming the contexts of those acting within them.

Berger, Peter. A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural. Expanded ed., New York: Doubleday, 1990. 187 pp.

Building on themes developed in The Sacred Canopy, Berger continues his analysis of religious pluralism in the modern world. With respect to this bibliography, chapters 2 :The Perspective of Sociology: Relativising the Relativizers,” 4: “Theological Possibilities: Confronting the Traditions”, and 7: “From Secularity to World Religions” are particularly relevant.

Berger, Peter. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969. 205 pp.

In chapters 5-7 Berger’s analyzes the process of secularization and its impact. Modern political authority now takes a stance towards religion similar to its stance towards markets, allowing for plurality and competition. Religious groups compete with one another and with non-religious rivals “in the business of defining the world.”(137) Consequently, “religious institutions become marketing agencies and the religious traditions become consumer commodities.” (138) Berger then analyzes the impact such a context has on the character of religious institutions.

Macy, Joanna. Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dharma of Natural Systems, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. 220 pp.

Macy uses general systems theory and Buddhist philosophy to illuminate the concept of mutual causality. Briefly, causality is best conceived not linearly, but in terms of dynamic interdependence. In Buddhist terms this is called “dependent co-arising.” In covering systems theory, Macy relies on the work of von Bertalanffy and Laszlo and their concept of “cybernetics II” in developing her analysis of systems theory. “Cybernetics II” allows for internal change within the system via its reaction to feedback, and so is self-organizing and emergent, whereas the original concept of cybernetics did not. She argues these concepts are in harmony with core Buddhist precepts as to the nature of mind and body, boers and deeds, and imply similar ethical concepts.

Wilber, Ken. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, Boston: Shambhala Pub., 2000. 832 pp.

The first part of Wilber’s book would be of particular interest, where he develops an “all level all quadrant” integral model integrating theories of emergent systems with other fields of knowledge, and arguing that only by including what we usually term spiritual dimensions of existence can we develop a genuinely integral and inclusive framework for knowledge and experience. Wilber is a major figure in efforts to reconcile the achievements of modernity with humankind’s varied spiritual traditions.

Titles not yet annotated:

Rappaport, Roy. Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 480 pp.

Rappaport, Roy. Ecology, Meaning and Religion. 2nd ed. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1988.