1st Edition

Religion and Civil Society Rethinking Public Religion in the Contemporary World

By David Herbert Copyright 2003

    This book presents the first full-length study of the relationship between religion and the controversial concept of civil society. Across the world in the last two decades of the twentieth century religions re-entered public space as influential discursive and symbolic systems apparently beyond the control of either traditional religious authorising institutions or states. This differentiation of religion from traditional institutions and entry into secular public spheres carries both dangers and possible benefits for democracy. Offering a fresh interdisciplinary approach to understanding religion in contemporary societies, this book provides an invaluable resource for students and researchers in religious studies, sociology, politics and political philosophy, theology, international relations and legal studies. Part one presents a critical introduction to the interaction between religion, modernization and postmodernization in Western and non-Western settings (America, Europe, the Middle East and India), focussing on discourses of human rights, civil society and the public sphere, and the controversial question of their cross-cultural application. Part two examines religion and civil society through case studies of Egypt, Bosnia and Muslim minorities in Britain, and compares Poland as an example of a Christian majority society that has experienced the public reassertion of religion.

    Contents: Introduction; Competing Theories: Rethinking religion and modernity: conventional and discursive religion; Rethinking secularization; Rethinking civil society; Rethinking the public sphere; Rethinking Liberalism and rights; Case Studies: : After The Satanic Verses: Muslims, civil society and the public sphere in Britain; After Solidarity: Catholicism, civil society and the public sphere in Poland; After genocide: religion and civil society in Bosnia; After Nasser: the Islamization of civil society and the public sphere in Egypt; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.


    David Herbert

    'Drawing from an interesting range of social theory and some innovative case studies, Herbert examines both the nature and the future of public religion in the modern world. At the start of the 21st century, understanding, and indeed shaping, that future is an urgent political task.' Grace Davie, Reader in the Sociology of Religion, University of Exeter 'After the traumatic events of September 11 understanding the complex and ever-changing relationship between religion and modernity has taken on a new urgency. Those scholars who for so long assumed that religion is simply irrelevant to modernity have been less than helpful. David Herbert represents a younger generation of religionists and social scientists who are prepared to look afresh at the evidence about, say, Islam in modern Egypt or Catholicism in liberated Poland. He is well equipped to do so and has written a fascinating and challenging book.' Professor Robin Gill, University of Kent at Canterbury 'On a subject too often beset by dogmatic generalisation, David Herbert has written an informative, nuanced and most thoughtful book.' Fred Halliday, author 'Islam and the Myth of Confrontation' 'We thought we had reached an accomodation between church and state, religion and the public space. But the role played by religion in the fall of communism, in the nationalist revivals of disintegrating Yugoslavia, and in parts of the Muslim world as well as in our own community politics shows that we were mistaken. David Herbert's study is a significant contribution towards understanding why the secularist self-confidence was misplaced.' Jorgen S. Nielsen, Professor and Director, Graduate Institute for Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham, UK '... Herbert's work is of considerable interest and importance since it addresses many of the most urgent and difficult issues arising in a globalised world... Herbert's detailed case studies of the role of religion in different contemporary social contexts are illuminating and valuable, and they provide solid empirical support for the major task of revision in sociological understanding that lies at the heart of this work. David Herbert's book is a significant contribution to modern social scientific studies and it should be read and pondered by all who are concerned to understand the contemporary world at a time when we hear warning of a 'clash of civilisations'... a valuable resource for theologians and missiologists striving to understand the complexities of the social and cultural context within which Christians seek to share faith today.' Themelios '... the concerns of this book are undeniably current. It asks if religion furthers or inhibits prospects for a global civil society. It seeks to bring up do date the discussion of the power and role of religion in the modern world. It is scholarly and well researched, extensively referenced and calls on interdisciplinary approaches... this book will certainly be useful for students of religious studies at university.' Journal of Beliefs and Values '... as a resource and as a guide to navigating the sometimes bewildering terrain of religion's role in civil society, Herbert's book deserves high commendation. He does justice both to the sociological theories that have provided uncertain empirical maps to this terrain and to the developments in liberal political theory... Students of religion, politics, and society are well served thereby.' Journal of Church and State '... the real strength of the book, I think, lies [...] in the diverse illustrative examples...' Modern Believing '... a valuable source for students and researchers in religious studies, sociology, politics and peace studies... Herbert expounds possible configurations of religion in modernity, which form the basis for a stimulating discussion of how religion may function within civil society'. International Journal of Public Theology