01: Although the secularization theory, holding that the world is becoming less religious, has come under fire in recent years, the new book God is Dead: Secularization in the West (Blackwell, $24.95) finds much of value in the concept, even in a modified form. Author Steve Bruce, a Scottish sociologist of religion and leading proponent of the theory, explains that secularization doesn’t have to mean total disbelief in God; religious indifference is more the case .With that caveat in mind, Bruce looks at a wide range of topics to drive home his point that trends proclaiming religious revival and growth may show just the opposite.
Far from disproving secularization, the interest in the New Age and Eastern religion suggests that Western Christianity has declined only to be replaced by a diffuse, noninstitutional spiritualities that by their very nature can’t create the durable communities and future generations of their predecessor. Bruce levels most of his arguments against sociologists holding to “rational choice” theory, which, in part, teaches that pluralism can aid religious growth.
Bruce asserts that even areas of religious growth and revival, such as the charismatic movement and the general vibrancy of American religion, do not necessarily disprove his thesis: The charismatic movement (at least in Britain) is a vehicle for those seeking a more worldly, less demanding faith. Bruce argues that religion flourishes more in the U.S. not because of the nation’s pluralism but because religious subcultures are allowed to function to a greater extent than in European society.
02: Osho Rajneesh (Signature Books, $12.95), by Judith M. Fox, is the latest in a series of small books on new religious movements issued by Signature Books and CESNUR, an Italian research center on new religions. The 51-page book traces the evolution of the Indian guru known as Rajneesh, then as Bhagwan (famous in the U.S. for leading a controversial Oregon commune marked by leadership abuses), and finally by the name of Osho before his death in 1990.
Osho-Rajneesh, as he is called by Fox, drew large followings in all of his incarnations through a synthesis of psychotherapeutic techniques, Eastern spirituality and a religious style stressing overturning traditional sexual mores. Fox finds that Osho-Rajneesh has an enduring appeal among followers, evident on the many sites on the Internet, the commune in Poona, India (which was his first) and in various schools, such as a “multiversity” in Holland.
In fact, Osho is being rehabilitated as memories of abuse in his communes have receded, receiving new recognition in India as well as in 300 information and meditation centers worldwide.