01: “Convergence” is the new buzzword among those writing about the relation of technology and the rest of culture.
The technology magazine Forbes ASAP (October) fills 284 pages in a special issue devoted to how all sorts of things are coming together: computers and the media, religion and science, biology and behavior, business and art. The 52 writers — including Bill Gates, Muhammad Ali and Tom Wolfe — often turn to the religious and spiritual themes and implications of convergence.
Futurist George Gilder links spirituality with the freedom and global character of the Internet; theologian Keith Ward finds growing unity among religions as the world moves together (interestingly, futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler see more fragmentation developing among faiths over technological issues); and sociobiologist E.O. Wilson predicts a more “secular mode” of life emerging, as morality and belief are shown to be biologically based.
In a penetrating and humorous article, Tom Wolfe pours cold water on the whole convergence enterprise. Wolfe traces the concept’s lineage to Catholic thinkers Tielhard de Chardin and Marshall McLuhan’s idea of spiritual evolution and unity and notes how computer and technology people have imbibed their philosophy.
“You can pick up any organ of the digital press…and close your eyes and riffle through the pages and stab your forefinger and come across evangelical prose that sounds like a hallelujah! for the ideas of Teilhard or McLuhan or both.”
More information on this issue can be found on Forbes ASAP’s web site: www.forbesasap.com.
02: The debate about secularization is still going strong in the academic world judging by the latest issue in the journal Sociology of Religion (Fall).
The issue devotes itself to past and present theories of secularization and how they can be explained, or dismissed, by the persistence and, in some cases, rebirth of religious beliefs and institutions. The reason secularization is still seen as important by several of the contributors, such as Belgian sociologist Karel Dobbelaere, is that they define it as a complex phenomenon involving not only the decline of faith, but also the pluralism and individualism of modern religious expressions that weakens its societal influence.
In one of the more readable articles in the issue, Rodney Stark argues that any such developments should be seen only as changes rather than as signs of religious decline. Stark examines historical and contemporary case studies — from 19th century British parish records to beliefs in Iceland — to suggest that there was no golden age of belief in the past and there is far from a secular escalation in the present.
For information on this issue, send to: Sociology of Religion, 3520 Wiltshire Drive, Holiday FL 34961-1239.
03: Wade Clark Roof’s new book Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion (Princeton University Press, $24.95) continues where his earlier work Generation of Seekers left off.
The book includes data and interpretation on the baby boomers he studied in the 1980s and then takes a look at how they have changed in the 1990s through interviews and survey research. Even more so than in the earlier book, Roof sees the traits and styles of baby boomers as transforming the entire American religious landscape. Roof finds an increasingly fluid manner of religious practice; interest in spirituality remains high while many of those who had returned to congregational life have since dropped out again (and some then returned again).
Roof sees differences among American believers and divides them into five subcultures: born again Christians, mainstream believers (Catholics, Jews and mainline Protestants), dogmatists (such as fundamentalists), metaphysical believers (New Age, occult), and secularists. Aside from the dogmatists and secularists, Roof sees major convergences developing among these groups toward a “questing” culture that accepts doubt and stresses the experiential side of religion (he sees liberalization within evangelicalism as decisive for these changes to have nationwide impact).
As with A Generation of Seekers, Roof tends to see these trends as positive signs of religious vitality (though not without their problems), but more pessimistic interpretations can also be mined from the data and case studies he ably provides.