Disengagement Of Religion From Political Life Cultural Studies Essay

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Bell (1977) defines Secularisation as "the disengagement of religion from political life" (p. 427). Simply put, it is dividing religion from state (a government which does not represent a particular religion, i.e. most democratic countries).

Bell admits that secularisation has already occurred, but argues that religion will return ('return of the sacred'), despite the belief of social theorists Karl Marx, David Durkheim, Max Weber, and William James, that religion may be in a permanent decline. Religious decline refers to a decline in the involvement of church, the loss/removal of religious institutions and symbols (e.g. France), the separation of society and religion (secularisation), and what Bell refers to as "loss of the sacred". Weber describes this loss as 'disenchantment'; not "believing in magic powers, in spirits and demons…..lost his sense of prophecy and, above all, his sense of the sacred" (as cited in Bell; 1977, p. 422), which he puts down to technological and scientifical advances; basically as society has advanced, religion has retreated.

The world has become secularised, religion has become more of a personal choice rather than an obligation; as Bell (p. 442) states "religion is no longer the collective conscience of society, as Durkheim believed was its elementary form".

A good example of modern day secularisation is France; in 2004 the French Senate (overwhelmingly) decided to ban the wearing or displaying of overt religious symbols in schools, and more recently banning the burqa/niqab; these decisions seem to reinforce the notion of France being a secular state. However, there has been (and still is) a lot of debate and controversy over Frances' secular view, i.e. the French argue that it is secular (bordering fundamentalist) that women cover their head/body, but more specifically because it oppresses women; whilst Muslims consider the ban racist, as it is their religious right to wear it. Since France invaded Algeria ("Algerian War"), there was concern that Algerian Muslims weren't adopting French values. A lack of knowledge, negative stereotypes, and perhaps the impact of the Algerian war may have led to the supposed dislike, racism and discrimination shown against French Muslims today.


Edward Said defines orientalism as "a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between the Orient and (most of the time) the Occident" (Moosavinia, 2003). Since the 1600's, 'Oriental' was designated as Asia or the East, instead of recognising the distinct societies of each region; Middle Eastern countries, India, China and Japan are now seen as the one entity. Both Hall and Said argue the role that the 'East' (or 'Rest') played in forming the identity of the 'West' is unrecognised (or not recognised as much as it should be).

The notion of 'Orientalism' was proposed at a time of European dominance in the Eastern World, and as Hall (1992) touches on; exploration resulted in contacting, conquering and establishing settlements. These colonial expeditions led to establishing permanent contact between East and West and gradually Western ways, ideas, and philosophies flowed on to the East. As a result imperialism arose; along with this came machinery, trade, and money, but at the expense of clashing of values, religion and beliefs. Imperialism led to the re-establishment of the Eastern World, whereby the West exploited the Eastern World for resources (and still is). Today, Neo-colonialism has allowed the Western world to indirectly apply power, and influence the Eastern world.

Both Hall (1992) and Said (1978) refer to 'Orientalism' as discourse, i.e. "a particular way of representing 'the West', the 'Rest', and the relations between them" (Hall, 1992, p. 291). An example of orientalism has occurred after the September 11 bombings; common stereotypes are once again being applied to Islam. Muslims are being interpreted as fanatical, violent, aggressive, 'other world' that needs to be controlled. It is the discourse of orientalism (us versus them, or West versus the Rest mentalities) and stereotyping that leads many people to believe all Muslims are fundamentalist, terrorists, and as a result many people view all Muslim's as 'the same'. Not only Muslims, but we (Western society) seem to 'homogenise' all ethnic groups, based especially on minorities and what is portrayed through the media.


Charon (2007) defines fundamentalism as "a certain way of looking at reality that is found in certain religious communities, certain individuals, and certain social movements". More specifically, fundamentalists generally interpret religious scripture (e.g. Bible, Qur'an) as being free of error, and the literal truth, i.e. every word, every event is true. This reliance on religion gives some people hope, a sense of purpose in their lives; as Charon points out fundamentalism appeals to people "experiencing horrible social conditions" (p. 278) and those who disapprove of modernisation. Fundamentalists believe that their religion is the one and only, the word of God takes precedence over any word of man, and they all live to perform God's will and his teachings.

Charon also touches on the characteristics of fundamentalist groups; a sense of identity specific to the group, protection from enemies, often led by "charismatic and authoritarian leaders" (p. 278), members abide by a strict moral code, boundaries distinguish members from enemies, are often right-wing conservative, they attempt to live their life through the eyes of their God, and they oppose the Enlightenment period/values. Examples of fundamentalist Christians are those who believe when Judgement Day (or Armageddon) occurs only true believers will be saved, and non-believers are summoned to eternal damnation, whilst a Muslim fundamentalist believes that Allah will reward them but not 'infidels'.

Originally, fundamentalism applied to the Protestant wave that spread across the United States in the late 19th century, nowadays, all Muslims are commonly being referred to as 'fundamentalists'. Since the September 11 bombings, Islamic people are being perceived as terrorists, suicidal fanatics who commit such acts in the name of their God. Unfortunately it is these fundamentalists that have now produced the stereotype that all Muslims are the same. Many people from Western society would be unaware that the Qur'an, and people from Islam oppose any form of attack/war against society; "The terrorist's acts, from the perspective of Islamic law, constitute the crime of hirabah (waging war against society)" (Muslims against Terrorism, 2007). There has been an increase in the number of fundamentalists, perhaps due to imperialism and the increasing power of the Western World, especially the USA. Poverty, oppression, quashing of tradition and religious beliefs may be the key factors in the rise of fundamentalist groups in the East.


Barber (2001) views 'Jihad' in its strongest form, defining it as "a bloody war on behalf of partisan identity that is metaphysically defined and fanatically defended" (p. 9), and McWorld as a "product of popular culture driven by expansionist commerce" (p. 17). Barber worries that globalisation and retribalisation are threatening the existence of democracy and the nation state, due to the opposing views of Jihad and McWorld; McWorld operates to promote global economic growth and production, whereas Jihad opposes globalisation/modernisation.

Jihad's opposition to globalisation has led to a global breakdown, or 'balkanisation', i.e. "divide a territory into small, hostile states" (WordNet Search- Glossary, 2010), which, essentially, has resulted in culture versus culture, tribe versus tribe. Jihad is very localistic, i.e. recreates values and traditions within their culture, whilst McWorld is globalistic; creating identity from the outside through trade, investment, technology, and capitalism. Whilst Jihad and McWorld often compete against each other, they also exist together, i.e. every action results in an equal reaction; "Caught between Babel and Disneyland, the planet is falling precipitously apart and coming together at the very same moment" (Barber, 2001, p. 4).

The Cold War, as Barber discusses, has already produced fragmentation; "The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have together already produced twenty or more new (old) nations or national fragments" (p.8). Huntington (1996) proposed a similar view; the growth and power of Western society has resulted in the world 'getting smaller', more and more non-western civilisations are resisting modernisation.

Again the concept of West versus the rest comes into play, two completely different worlds; on one side you have the imperialistic ways of the West, who, through McWorld are able to easily manipulate consumers through the use of iconic brand names and franchises, such as McDonalds, Nike, etc., and on the other side you have the 'Jihad', who struggle to maintain their identity, their culture. The difference between the two worlds is summed up perfectly by (Barber, 2001, p. 8), "Jihad pursues the bloody politics of identity, McWorld a bloodless economics of profit". The concept of Jihad v McWorld informs people of the difference between two different worlds, how the Western world sees/thinks about the 'Rest', and how the 'Rest' sees/thinks about the 'West'.

Bibliography/Reference List

Barber, B. (2001). Introduction. In B. Barber, Jihad v McWorld: Terrorism's Challenge to Modernity (pp. 3-20). New York: Ballantine.

Bell, D. (1977). The Return of the Sacred? The Argument on the Future of Religion. The British Journal of Sociology , 28 (4), 419-449.

Charon, J. M. (2007). Is Organised Religion Necessary for Society? Tradition, Modernisation and Secularisation. In J. M. Charon, Ten Questions: A Sociological Perspective (6th ed., pp. 247-286). Thomson Wadsworth.

Hall, S. (1992). The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power. In B. Gieben, & S. Hall, Formations of Modernity: Introduction to Sociology (pp. 276-331). Cambridge: Polity

Huntington, S. P. (1996). The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order (1st ed.). Simon & Schuster.

Moosavinia, S. R. (2003, November 18). Edward Said Debunks Orientalism. Retrieved September 18, 2010, from Mehr News: http://www.mehrnews.com/en/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=38447

Muslims against Terrorism. (2007, August 16). Retrieved September 21, 2010, from Islam for Today: http://www.islamfortoday.com/terrorism.htm

Said, E. W. (1978). Orientalism. Vintage Books.

WordNet Search- Glossary. (2010, September 20). Retrieved September 21, 2010, from Princeton University: http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=balkanise