01: Sociologist Thomas Luckmann’s 1967 book Invisible Religion was a landmark study of how religious faith was becoming privatized in the modern world, predicting much of the upsurge in alternative and individualistic spirituality.
The September issue of the journal Social Compass revisits Luckmann’s study, applying its theories and findings to a changing Europe. The issue includes an article by Luckmann updating his views as well as contributions on invisible religion in Italy and Eastern Europe.
It is interesting to note that while Luckmann and the other contributors still see organized religion losing its hold in Europe, they tend to see the large number of Europeans seeking transcendence outside of institutions as reflecting the “resacralizing” taking place in other parts of the world.
For more information on this issue write: Social Compass, Dept. of Sociology, Van Evenstraat 2B, Leuven, B3000, Belgium)
02: With his new book Following Our Bliss (Harper SanFrancisco, $24.95), San Francisco Chronicle religion writer Don Lattin furthers his reputation as a leading recorder and interpreter of alternative religions and spiritual “seeking.”
The book expands upon some of the trends documented in his earlier Shopping for Faith, which was co-authored with RW’s editor. But this time Lattin tells the story of American spiritual journeys and experimentation through the perspectives of the sixties generation and their children. His interviews with the second generation members and dropouts from religious communes and new religious movements — including Esalen, radical Catholicism, the Unification Church, the Hare Krishnas, and Zen Buddhism — are especially revealing.
Lattin finds disenchantment and anger among those brought up to follow in their parents’ dreams and visions (particularly as they often led to shattered family structures), but also notes how in some cases the younger generation continues in these paths even as they significantly change them in the process (for instance, the less communal style of the Hare Krishnas).
Much more of a first person and sympathetic account than “Shopping,” the book also provides engaging accounts of more recent developments in alternative spirituality–from drug-induced raves and their conflict with churches to the New Age and social action.
03: The new book Challenging Religion, (Routledge, $95) edited by James Beckford and James Richardson, covers a wide range of issues in contemporary religion, although the focus is on new religious movements.
The book, published in honor of sociologist and new religious movement specialist Eileen Barker, includes chapters on the counter-cult and anti-cult movements, church/state issues and religious minorities in Europe, Singapore and the former Soviet Union. Although some of the chapters are heavily academic and theoretical, this over-priced book does provide new insights on these controversial issues.
RW contributing editor Jean-Francois Mayer’s chapter on religion and the Internet finds the medium less of a catalyst for creating and furthering new religious movements than for actually assisting anti-cult groups, as well as aiding spiritual practices, strengthening global links with fellow believers, and providing access to a wide range of information.
A chapter on new religious movements in the former Soviet Union notes that much of the apocalyptic fervor after the collapse of communism has simmered down in recent years. Such groups as the Mother of God Center and the Church of the Last Testament have become more accommodating, moderate and even ecumenical toward other groups.