Friday, May 23, 2014

Transitions and Power shifts: Changing the Status Quo



The story of Indonesia’s ongoing political reformation, the “Reformasi” is a long one. Despite the success of independence struggles from the Dutch between 1945 to 1949, President Sukarno gradually shifted from democracy towards authoritarianism, dubbed “Guided Democracy.” An alleged attempted coup by the communists in 1965 saw General Suharto take power from President Sukarno and institute his own authoritarian “New Order”. For three decades, backed by military support, inside and outside of parliament, Suharto ruled Indonesia, and, supported by the US government, encouraged foreign direct investment in Indonesia, which was a major factor in the subsequent period of substantial economic growth. However, the "New Order" was widely accused of corruption and suppression of political opposition, with over a million thought to have been killed under the repressive regime, within Indonesia as well as human rights abuses in Tanah (West Papua) and Timor-Leste.

The Asian Economic Crisis was the catalyst for a major paradigm shift in Indonesian politics. Being the hardest hit by the crisis, this led to popular protest against the New Order which led to Suharto's resignation in May 1998 and handing over of power to the power over to the Vice President B.J. Habibie. In 1999, East Timor voted in a UN-supervised popular referendum to secede from Indonesia, after a twenty-five-year military occupation that was marked by international condemnation of repression of the East Timorese. Since 1998, Indonesian political and governmental structures have undergone major reforms. One of those who has played a key role in the reforms, which includes the transition of power from the military to the state, from within the Indonesian armed forces is Lt. General (Ret.) Agus Widjojo.

Agus (as he introduced himself on joining a lunch with former Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. N. Hassan Wirajuda),  is the former Vice Chairman (Deputy Speaker) of the National Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia and Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) Chief of Territorial Affairs.  He is regarded as one of the TNI’s leading thinkers. During his appointment as Commandant of the Armed Force’s staff college, the TNI think tank, he was responsible for restructuring the political and security doctrine of the TNI. He also serves as a member of the Indonesia-Timor Leste Joint Truth and Friendship Commission and is a member of the advisory Board of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, Udayana University as well as an advisor to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He has also visited Fiji in the past to speak on Indonesia’s transition.

Agus, whose father was one of the generals kidnapped and killed in the first days of the coup in 1965, was one of the first intakes at the joint Indonesian Armed Forces Military Academy (AKABRI) established by Suharto in 1967. By the beginning of the Refomasi in 1999, a number of the “Class of 1970”who were the first to graduate from AKABRI realised that conditions had changed in Indonesia and that instead of maintaining the status quo, the military had no option but to adapt to evolving social expectations and demands. Agus was part of a smaller group in the military leadership who saw the need for immediate and radical change. As a result, instead of consolidating power in the vacuum left by Suharto’s resignation, the military opted to reform itself from a political force to a professional military focusing on the constitutional role and authority of national defence under civilian supremacy in a democratic political system.

Since 1959, there had been military representation, not elected but appointed, in the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) – the Indonesian Parliament. Under Suharto, the military and police representation was 100 out of 500 seats. Following the 1999 elections, 38 seats were reserved for the military/police faction. Agus became the “leading light”of the evolutionary change group and, as head of the military and police faction in the People’s Consultative Assembly, was instrumental in convincing the military leadership to withdraw the last vestiges of its legislative representation in 2004, five years earlier than 2009 as previously scheduled. It was not an easy process. It was hard to break old habits.

“The military was not prepared for this transition, it was forced by the circumstances of the Asian Crisis,” said Agus, over coffee. “How did we manage the transition? By trial and error. There was a fear of leaving governance to civilians only, so it was a slow decrease of the militarisation of government positions. We decided that is was better for the military to leave the political arena with dignity than be forced by politicians, so we gave up the assembly seats in 2002 instead of the expected 2009.”

 According to Agus, the yardstick of TNI’s role in the democratic and political changes was based on the principle TNI would leave the democratic transition process to the civilian politician, and that the less TNI involved itself in the democratic and political transition the more TNI contributed to the democratic and political transition.

“We gradually demilitarised the police and left law enforcement and internal security to them under the regional government while the military, under the central government is responsible for external security and assisting in agriculture and infrastructure development.”

In an interview given in 2012, Agus said, “Although Indonesia has now experienced 14 years of her transition to democracy, by all means it is far from completion. We went through a period of having 4 presidents in 6 years. Indonesia is still in the process to progress from democratic transition into democratic consolidation where ‘democracy is the only game in town’. We still see the unavoidable characteristic of a democratic transition such as the struggle to establish an effective government which is able to deliver its promises and move from procedural democracy to a more substantive democracy. In this transition Indonesia is still in the process to establish an effective function of the rule of law.”

At the same time, the “Reformasi” has resulted in the establishment of new institutions to allow better quality of checks and balances and control, such as the Constitutional Court, the National Commission of Human Rights, and the Commission for The Eradication of Corruption.

“True believers are needed from both the civil and military leadership to ensure this transition takes place,” said Agus.


“People need to trust in the police to enforce laws rather than the military. We need to ensure that our best and brightest don’t just go into politics but realise that they are needed in civil society. And we need to transform the culture of strong leadership, into a culture of collective authority.”

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sociology of Religion - Seularisation and Religion in Fiji (2012)


The key theories that are applicable to the religious situation in the Fiji context are the disengagement or differentiation theory and what McGuire terms competing sources of legitimacy. According to the theory of disengagement or differentiation, society separates itself from the religious understanding which has previously informed it in order to constitute itself an autonomous reality and consequently to limit religion to the sphere of private life. This means that religion influences these other areas through the personally held and applied values and attitudes of people who are active in each sphere, rather than directly through specifically religious institutions such as the church. Particularly important in this interpretation is the loss of control over the definition of deviance and the exercise of social control.
For the individual, the process of differentiation involves conflicting development. On the one hand, differentiation appears to go hand in hand with the discovery of the self – the unique individual within society. On the other hand, differentiation results in segregation of the individual’s various roles in society. Values such as moral qualms or self-realisation are not necessarily negated; they are simply relegated to another institutional sphere and considered irrelevant if they do not contribute to achieving the goals of the organisation. The individual may experience a conflict between the needs and goals of the self and the demands of these social roles.
The theory of competing sources of legitimacy in society holds that the differentiation process has resulted in competition and conflict among the various sources of legitimacy of authority. In contemporary society religious institution must actively compete with other sources of legitimacy. Personal, social, and political authority are more uncertain. One particular source of this uncertainty of legitimacy is pluralism, referring to a societal situation in which no single world view hold a monopoly. Pluralism is sometimes used in a narrower sense to describe the political or societal tolerance of competing versions of the truth. Pluralism, in both limited and broader senses, is a key factor in the secularisation process. Where world views coexist and compete as plausible alternatives to each other, the credibility of all is undermined. The pluralistic situation relativises the competing world views and deprives them of their taken-for-granted status.
As we learned in class, institutional secularisation can be traced to the rise of the “secular” state and its gradual assumption of the educational and welfare functions once performed by the churches. This is certainly the case in Fiji. Christian mission in Fiji which had focused on education, health and social assistance, have over the years been taken over by the government. In recent years with the widening economic gap in society meant that other institutions were needed to take up these functions of education and welfare. However the churches have had to compete with non-religious aid agencies and civil-society organisations to reclaim this role. This is also the case with the issue of social legitimacy. In many cases the church is relegated being one of many voices on social issues. The other voices are provided by Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil-Society Organisations who often specialise on issues and are thus recognised by mainstream media as the legitimate authority on that particular issue which is then accepted by society. The church’s loss of definition of deviance on issues such as homosexuality, de facto relationships, domestic violence and racism has also added to its increasing disengagement from these aspects of society as other institutions such as law and human rights become recognised as legitimate authoritative institutions for such definitions.
The issue of “secular” state has also had an impact on the disengagement of society from religion. The rise in religious fundamentalism and ethnocentrism within the dominant religious institution, the predominantly indigenous Fijian Methodist Church in Fiji, as a result of loss of social control and legitimacy in the face of pluralism (brought about by an increase in the population of Indo-Fijians, the majority of whom are Hindu) led to support for a “secular” state. The recent political crisis in Fiji which saw the military regime, remove the Methodist Church’s significant influence on politics has also been part of this disengagement.
At the same time the political and, by consequence, economic instability has led to an increase religious activity as a result of the anxiety caused by these situations and as a form of compensation for the deprivation experienced. However as disengagement has led to discovery of the self as unique individual within society and as an individual’s desire for meaning and belonging must be pursued in the private sphere, the individual is free to “shop around” to find the type of religious meaning that suits him or her, rather than having to conform to the institutional religious requirements in society.
The churches have recognised that their relevance in society is decreasing as a result of this differentiation. In Fiji and across the Pacific, due to low populations and traditional cultures that are still entrenched, the church still holds some traditional authority. The relative smallness of Pacific Island states also mean that the winds of change are recognisable when they blow. This means that these changes have not gone unnoticed and direct correlations have been drawn to globalisation and the shift towards secularisation. The negative impact of the economic aspects of globalisation, in which most other institutions seem to be contributing towards, has given the churches an area to reclaim its legitimacy. 

As churches find themselves confronted by the consequences of the process of economic globalization, it has become apparent to them negative aspects of economic globalization are incompatible with the values they hold. As a result churches are able to argue that these so call private values are in fact institutional and important to society. By engaging with what it perceives as a competing vision competing, speaking out against the negative effects economic globalization has becomes an expression of defiance against the emerging global system of domination, of one ideology, one political system, one international coalition of the wealthy and the powerful. Churches and many individuals have come to recognize that this is a “kairos” - a time for resistance and a time for alternatives. By articulating these alternatives in the language of traditional culture and of religion, the churches have begun to reclaim their place as a legitimate source of authority in society. This and engagement on issues such as climate change and sustainable development is a counter process to intellectual secularisation which has attempted to separate sciences and ethics from the context of a particular version of the Christian world view.

Sociology of Religion - The religious cultural characteristics of Fiji in general and in Christianity (2012)



While it would seem that understanding the religious cultural characteristics of Fiji is complicated by the different cultures that exist within Fiji the reality is that by and large Fijians are culturally Dionysian. The culture of the heart - emotional, passional and experiential describes the dominant cultural patterns of Fijian culture across diverse ethnicities. However there is a complication to this description when it comes to the traditional religious culture and the arrival of new religious movements.
The three main religions in Fiji are Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. These three religions have taken on cultural characteristics that are Apollon – rational, logical, analytical and intellectual. Christianity was not just introduced as a religion in Fiji but as part of European (specifically British) expansion into the Pacific (religious, followed by political). Christianity was introduced to the native Fijians by missionaries but through their chiefs. When the chief converted, the people converted. As a result the tradition of Christianity (predominantly protestant – Methodist) that has embedded itself in Fijian culture was Apollon based on the rational intellectualism of the Victorian age, even though the indigenous archaic religion of Fiji was Dionysian. Similarly as organised religion was reestablished among Indians brought to Fiji, under the British neo-slavery of the indenture system of the late 19th and early 20th century, the trend shifted. As Hindu and Muslim priests were sent from India to regularize religious practice in Fiji there was a reform from Dionysian to Apollon.
This has resulted in what I term, religious-cultural schizophrenia. The Fijian people are culturally Dionysian but religiously Apollon. Hinduism has over time, through its rituals reverted to being Dionysian in culture. Islamic tradition in Fiji remains firmly Apollon as was evidenced by the removal of a number of clerics who were attempting to create a more emotional and extreme form of Islam post-9/11. Christianity has struggled with this schizophrenia as the traditional Christian denominations, especially Methodism have been used to maintain social control of members. Emotional, passional and experiential patterns of religion are not accepted within the boundary of the Christian community, but celebrated outside in traditional life. This has also led to an increase in frustration of members of these churches. As a result with the influx of Pentecostal, charismatic and other new religious movements, many Christians who can no longer cope with this cultural schizophrenia have joined these churches which are culturally Dionysian. In the past two decades there has also been a number of breakaways from the Methodist Church in Fiji (the dominant religious group in the country) which have made the shift to Dionysian type of religious culture, but wish to hold on to some aspects of the Methodist tradition.
The influx of new religious movements in Fiji has also had an impact on theodicy in Fiji. Hinduism and Islam maintain their theodicy. In Hinduism takes the form of karma-samsara, ones present life’s position and situation is the result of their actions in a previous life and the actions in the present life will determine the position and situation in the next life. However, while Weber had, on the basis of the caste system, defined Hinduism as other-worldly mysticism, the fact that as a result of the indenture system Indian culture in Fiji has no traditional caste system has affected the method of seeking salvation for Fijian Hindus to the extent that economic activity has become important as a means for improving the quality of life, which is possible. This would suggest that Hinduism in Fiji now has the characteristic of inner-worldly asceticism.
Theodicy in Islam can be seen to have a number of similarities to Christianity – there is a reward in the next life for the suffering in this life, (other-worldly), there is a conflict between God and Satan (dualism) and the “Messiah” will come to destroy evil (millenarianism) – with the exception of soteriology. Salvation in Islam is through ascetic training expressed through the five pillars of confession of faith, worship, charity, fasting and pilgrimage. This gives it the quality of inner-worldly asceticism.
In terms of Christianity, mainline churches view evil as conditional and able to be sanctified through God’s grace. They are soteriological in their theodicy, based on the doctrine of the atonement. However the theodicy many of new religious movements differ in their understanding of God’s justice and unjust situations and thus place greater emphasis on different types of theodicy. There is predominance among Pentecostal sects to focus on eschatology and hold a millenarianism perspective in the belief that we are living in the end times and that Jesus is coming very soon to destroy all evil powers and will reign for a thousand years. A precondition given by a number of groups is that total evangelism must occur for this to happen. Some smaller sects practice a type of syncretism in which mysticism is practiced and traditional Fijian religious-cultural rituals are used. God’s justice in this case is a mystery.

In terms of the social location of religion, Fiji has been characterized by shifts based on the socio-political situation. For many years we enjoyed a period in which the culture was religiously inclusive and socially tolerant. However in the twenty five years since the first political crisis there was a major swing in the pendulum to religiously exclusive and socially intolerant. This was reflective of the emergence of Christian fundamentalism and ethnocentrism among the dominant ethnic group of indigenous Fijians. Recently we have settled for a social location that is religiously exclusive and socially tolerant. However in the current military led regime that is purporting to be working towards unity in diversity, efforts are being made to shift towards being religiously inclusive and socially tolerant once again.

Sociology of Religion - Psychological and Social Functions of the Christian Religion and the Fiji Context (2012)

Emile Durkheim believed that religion had functionality in terms of integration, balance, stability, order, consensus and solidarity. These were both psychological/personal and social functions. Christianity performs these functions both positively and negatively. According to the functional theory of religion, religion addresses: the limitation of scarcity by providing compensation for deprivation of money, power and status by providing a value in personal and social life; the uncertainty of future by compensating for anxiety and insecurity; and the sense of impossibility and powerlessness by empowering.

Psychological Functions of Religion
 The psychological functions of religion refer to the role of religion in addressing the situation a person encounters in life. Based on the above three limitations on a personal level, religion serves in both a positive and negative way.
Positive
One function of religion is to give meaning and purpose to life. Many things in life are difficult to understand. Even in today’s highly technological world, much of life and death remains a mystery, and religious faith and belief help many people make sense of the things science cannot tell us. Religion performs this psychological function which leads to greater psychological and physical well-being. Religious faith and practice can enhance psychological well-being by being a source of comfort to people in times of distress and by enhancing their social interaction with others in places of worship. Many studies find that people of all ages, not just the elderly, are happier and more satisfied with their lives if they are religious. Religiosity also apparently promotes better physical health, and some studies even find that religious people tend to live longer than those who are not religious. Christianity, from this perspective, through the assurance of salvation in Jesus, God’s positive purpose for humankind and the promise of eternal life and a future equitable kingdom,
Religion also functions to compensation for deprivation. As people experience economic hardships, forced migration and physical trauma, mental health issues and loss of morality, religions can help to alleviate poverty, advocate cause of the least, provide shelter and provide counseling. Certainly Christianity, as a missional religion, actively engages in this manner. From providing education, food packages, healthcare, social advocacy and developing low housing, as well as pastoral counseling, many churches work hard to materially manifest the kingdom of God among the poor and disadvantaged.
Religion also functions to provide a sense of identity and belongingness. Within the Christian context, adherents are part of community of faith within their society, as well as part of the worldwide “Body of Christ” and also citizens of the present and future kingdom of God.
Negative
One of the negative psychological functions of religion is strengthening strains and adding to the depravation of the individual. Christianity as an alternative community within a pluralistic society or a minority religion can have negative implications if members are persecuted or oppressed because of their choice of religion. Some churches also place financial burdens on members in terms of tithes or collections.
From a Marxist perspective, religion can also function as an opiate of the poor and oppressed, keeping them satisfied with present conditions. Christianity’s emphasis on enduring suffering and the future kingdom can be manipulated to maintain the status quo.
Religion also functions to foster exaggerated self-consciousness or exclusiveness. An understanding of being God’s chosen people can lead to a feeling of superiority. As a result a “me/they” attitude can develop within members towards non-Christians. When Christianity is a dominant religion this can also produce a narrow world view and hostility, passivity, lack of responsibility towards non-Christians. This has the potential for social conflict.

Sociological Functions of Religion
Positive
Religion reinforces social unity and stability. As discussed above, this was one of Durkheim’s most important insights. Religion strengthens social stability in at least two ways. First, it gives people a common set of beliefs and thus is an important agent of social cohesion. Second, the communal practice of religion, as in houses of worship, brings people together physically, facilitates their communication and other social interaction, and thus strengthens their social bonds.  Religion is an agent of social control and thus strengthens social order. Religion teaches people moral behavior and thus helps them learn how to be good members of society. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Ten Commandments are perhaps the most famous set of rules for moral behaviour, while Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” can also be understood as a “manifesto” for social cohesion and control.
Religion can also motivate people to work for positive social change. Christianity has played a central role in the development of the civil rights and social justice movements, liberation theology and opposition to economic globalisation.
Negative
Religion also serves to support social dysfunctions. With an emphasis on social integration, a religion that holds to conservative values can actually maintain the status quo and support a problematic present situation. Not only did Roman Catholicism do this but also Luther’s conservative views on social status highlights how a church (either Catholic or Protestant) can resist social change or reform and be a barrier to social change.
Religion can also support aggressive attitudes and criminal behaviour. Forced conversion and persecution of non-Christians, desecration of non-Christian places of worship are result of a negative function of religion as social control.
Religion can also function to foster social conflict. Whether in response to a radical secular ideology which is perceived as a threat to the social cohesion and control or as a result fundamentalist religious attitude, religion has contributed to some of the world’s greatest atrocities and human rights abuses. Since Christianity became a dominant religion there have been many instances of this, from the Crusades, Reformation and Counter reformation  (including the Inquisition). Even within Christianity, differences over doctrine have led to major social conflicts both in the pre-modern, modern and postmodern eras.

Application to the Fijian Context
Positive Psychological and Social Functions
Apart from the positive message of the Gospel, Christianity’s positive functions in Fijian life (individual and personal) include the ending of the practice of cannibalism and to a large extent tribal warfare in the early stages of missionary endeavour. Mission work has lead to the establishment of schools and orphanages, provision of healthcare, and other positive compensation to the deprivation of not only Christians but non-Christians as well, especially the marginalized.
Christianity has maintained the social cohesion of the indigenous Fijians as well as social control as pastors/ministers hold a position of influence in the villages. This extends into the urban areas where traditional social structures are maintained. In most villages, the church hall is the focal point for social gatherings and events. Outside Fiji, Christian Fijians regularly gather together for church services which become opportunities to reconnect and maintain social unity. Christian morality remains the foundation for moral and legal standards in Fiji.
In terms of social change, Christianity has played an important role in the abolition of the oppressive indenture system through which the British brought bonded labourers from India. Christian organizations such as the Young Women’s Christian Association, Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy and the Fiji Council of Churches have played a prophetic role in critiquing the status quo and leading positive social change movements.

Negative Psychological and Social Functions

 However, Christianity has also had a dysfunctional role both for individuals and Fijian society. Excessive financial demands by mainline churches and Pentecostal “gospel of prosperity” have been highlighted as one of the key causes of poverty in Fiji. Denominationalism has led to fracturing of family and social cohesion. As mentioned above, Fundamentalist and ethnocentric elements within churches have actively persecuted non-Christian minority groups and sought to entrench their control of society through political means and criminal activities. Conservative attitudes of some churches have also led to major social and political conflicts, some of which have been violent. The resistance to social reform has by these churches has also negatively affected the social development of Fiji. At the same time many churches inability to address the issue of increasing functional equivalents is leading to a growing schism within society. 

Sociology of Religion - Understanding the Dominant Religious Situation in Fiji (2012)

 In terms of population, Christianity is the dominant religion in Fiji, with 65 percent of the population classified as Christians in the last census. Approximately 95 percent of the indigenous population (the majority ethnic group), are Christians. To understand Christianity as the dominant religious situation of Fiji, a perspective from the classical theories of Marx, Durkheim and Webber is helpful.[1]
Religious Theory of Karl Marx
 Marx’s theory of religion was approached from the point of materialism, in which matter is the source of existence and determines everything. Marx’s materialism was critical of Hegel’s idealism in that he argued that the infrastructure (matter) determined the superstructure (ideas). He carried this view forward to the class structure which he described as a class conflict of the oppression and exploitation by the ruling bourgeoisie, who had the means of production; of the proletariat, who could only contribute labour force. Marx’s theory of religion was shaped by this inequality of economics.
Marx viewed the function of religion negatively as used by the oppressive bourgeoisie to provide the proletariat with a form of psychological compensation for their social, economic and political deprivation by providing comfort, encouragement and hope. Religion, according to Marx was an “opiate of the people” which was used to manipulate them and maintain the status quo. Marx’s alternative to this “oppressive social ideology” was the abolition of religion as part of a social revolution.
Religious Theory of Emile Durkheim
 Durkheim, unlike Marx, had a more positive view of religion. He approached religion from a macro sociological perspective, looking at society as a whole. In particular Durkheim focused on the role of religion in providing solidarity, integration and a sense of community within society. For Durkheim, the attributes of religion – the sacred, ritual and belief played an important role in the collective consciousness of a community. He examined the role of religion as a mechanism of social integration and control.
Durkheim understood this integrative function in terms of the universal and general function of religion. From this perspective he saw religion as eternal and had an expectation that a new God would be accepted in the future, in order for religion to maintain its functionality. While Durkheim was initially criticized for basing his theories on a primitive tribal society and thus not applicable to a modern society, the work of Robert Bellah, particularly in his development of the concept of “civil” or “civic religion” was an important reevaluation of Durkheim’s social theory.

Religious Theory of Max Webber
Like Durkheim, Webber also differed from Marx. Webber did agree with Marx that materialism can impact ideology and religion. However, Webber looked to held that there was reciprocity between matter and ideology. Thus, according to Webber, religion provided meaning to existential questions and was an independent variable of social change – not determining social action but significant in shaping perceptions and interpretations of material interests.  He sought to make connection between religion and social life and economic behavior, especially among different religious groups.
For Weber, religion is best understood as it responds to the human need for theodicy and soteriology. Human beings are troubled, he says, with the question of theodicy – the question of how the extraordinary power of a divine god may be reconciled with the imperfection of the world that he has created and rules over. People need to know, for example, why there is undeserved good fortune and suffering in the world. Religion offers people soteriological answers, or answers that provide opportunities for salvation – relief from suffering, and reassuring meaning. The pursuit of salvation, like the pursuit of wealth, becomes a part of human motivation.
Webber’s Protestant Ethic thesis argued that the spirit of modern capitalism – economic rationalism, worldly asceticism and vocation/calling – were protestant ethics emerging primarily from Calvinism, but also Pietism, Lutheranism and Methodism. For Webber, this ethic based on ascetic Protestantism that was compatible with modern rational capitalist business and practices, meant that capitalism could be seen as carrying out God’s purpose in life. For Webber this meant that religious affiliations could also be associated with success in business and with ownership of capital resources. For economic development in Europe, this was a positive thing. Webber also made comparisons with China and India in which religion had negative functions for social change or economic development.

Application to the Fijian Context
            The above theories of religion all share a perspective that originates within a dominant religious situation. Thus one is able to draw both positives and negative understanding from a dominant religion, in the case of Fiji, Christianity. Protestant Christianity, in particular Methodism (54% of Christians are Methodist) is the dominant religion and is understood to be one of the “legs” of the “three-legged stool” of traditional Fijian society. The three-legged stool refers to the balance of the church, government and indigenous leadership, land and culture. The church is the first leg of the stool; the state is the second leg; while the third leg refers to the traditional chiefly leadership, land and indigenous culture. The three-legged stool has been entwined over the years as dividing lines have been blurred. Some believe that this structure is prevalent in the Fijian Methodist Church today as we see the hierarchical way it sets up its structure within its leadership right down to the congregation. While this image is an example of the dominance of Christianity, in particular Methodism in Fijian traditional society, it has carried over into modern Fijian society.
            From Marx’s point of view, Christianity has been used as a way of entrenching the status quo among traditional Fijian society. Chiefs are understood to rule over their indigenous subjects from a theology that supports divine right to rule. Their focus on “noqu kalou, noqu vanua” which means “my God, my land,’ is both conservative and ethnocentric, and has legitimized  a structure in which Fijian commoners, in spite of economic and political developments, must still defer to the decision of their chiefs. Thus although the indigenous Fijians have most of the available land in Fiji (83 percent of land is communally owned by indigenous Fijians) decision-making lies in the hands of the chiefs, supported, for the most, by the church. The church focuses on the afterlife to compensate for the deprivation of the indigenous population.
            While Durkheim’s contribution to the concept of civil religion is important, his focus on social integration faces difficulties when the context is pluralistic society where the Christianity is used as a social control. There is an “us and them” mentality as the majority of indigenous Fijians are Christians and the majority of Indo-Fijians are Hindu. Religion here is integrative at a community level but divisive on the wider social level. An understanding of the function of religion as social control in this context may call into question the underlying motives of evangelism, especially when a dominant culture is attached to a dominant religion. However Durkheim’s expectation of a new God in the future may lead to something else, such as national spirit – especially through sports. The sport of rugby is often described as a religion in Fiji because of its popularity among every group of society. Perhaps this has a larger role to play in social integration than religion.
Webber’s social theory of religion also sheds light on how Christianity in Fiji can be understood as an independent variable. Christianity, particularly of the conservative /fundamentalist coupled with ethnocentric nationalism, has led to a militant resistance to challenges to social control. Christians, with both the implicit and explicit support of the Methodist Church have been the instigators and perpetrators of three military and one civilian coup d’├ętats over the last 25 years, Fiji being a “Christian state” between the years 1990-97, discriminatory practices, emotional and physical abuse of non-Christians and non-indigenous Fijians. When a change in Methodist leadership tried to shift the church’s function from a negative to a positive role in society, Fiji became perhaps the only Methodist conference in the world to have a violent removal of leadership. In these instances, rather than a “protestant ethic”, a conservative theology motivated the dominant religion to exert social control in order to maintain its power. More of the Fiji Christian context will be discussed in line with the next question on the psychological and social functions of religion.
One major criticism of the classical theories of religion of Marx, Durkheim and Webber was they all only focused on a society with one major ethnic group and one dominant religion. This, while providing important theories on the nature and function of religion in society in general does not take into account modern/post modern societies – not in terms of the need and demise/abolition of religion – but more so in terms of the rise of globalization and the movement of people, in that societies are becoming pluralistic. Durkheim’s theory as revitalized by Bellah, may however, show how these theories can be adapted or reevaluated to speak to new contexts.




[1] References used in this paper are notes, handouts and presentation material from “Sociology of Religion” class. 

Religion and Secularisation - (Based on Chapter 8 of Religion: The Social Context by Meredith B. McGuire) (2012)

·         Secularisation – The Concept
Classical thinkers such as Hegel, Marx, Saint-Simon, Durkheim, Comte and Weber developed theories of social change, all of which involved interpretations of the changing significance of religion in society. However the notion of secularisation is not a purely rational construct that is open to proof or disproof. McGuire describes it as a mythological account because it is empirically impossible to disconfirm. According to Thomas Luckmann, the secularisation thesis is essentially an attempt to “explain the emergence of the modern world,” since many thinkers feel that modern society differs absolutely from what came before it. As a result the secularisation debate is closely linked with theories of modernisation.
Much of the debate over secularisation hinges upon definitions of religion. In general, sociologists using substantive definitions of religion (what religion is/the object of religious attention) conclude that religion in modern society is declining in significance. By contrast, sociologists using functional definitions (what religion does) tend to agree that the location and manifestation of religion haves changed in contemporary society but that this reflects a transformation, not a decline in religion.

·         Secularisation as Religious Decline
The image behind this thesis is that once people were highly religious and that religion informed all aspect of society. Accordingly society is becoming less and less religious, and individual lives a decreasingly influenced by religion. From this perspective, religion will eventually disappear. This understanding of secularisation is either condemned or welcomed. Representatives of religious organisations and interests are understandably against the decline. Proponents of counter ideologies such as positivism, Marxism and Freudianism typically welcome the decline.
The exact nature of the ‘decline; of religion, however, is difficult to specify. There is no
Clear-cut empirical evidence to show that religion is declining. Generally though, there are two areas of imputed decline: the religiosity of individuals and the scope and power of religious institutions.
            (Let’s watch a short video to illustrate this.)

·         Secularisation as Religious Transformation
An alternative interpretation of secularisation is that religion is not so much in a decline as it is in a transformation.
o   Religious Evolution: Bellah
Bellah suggests that the change is one of religious evolution and this it is not the religious person or the ultimate religious situation that changes, rather it is religion as a symbol system[1] that evolves. Bellah clarified that evolution is not inevitable, irreversible or unidirectional; it does not imply that what results is necessarily “better”. He characterises five stages of historical patterns of religion:
1.    Primitive religion – with a symbol system of a mythical world which serve as paradigms for the detailed features of the actual physical and social world.
2.    Archaic religion – the development of religious cults with gods, priests, worship, sacrifice and sometimes divine kingship. Mythical beings are more objectifiedand are seen as actively influential and controlling the human and natural world (they have become gods).
3.    Historic Religion – “world religions” such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam. There is a development of cosmological dualism, referring to the image of two realms: one is the human world and the other a higher realm of universal reality. The empirical world of everyday human life is seen as subordinate or less real. At this stage, the concept of the supernatural develops. The transcendent deities of historic religions also contribute to the universalism of these religions through the image of all humans being responsible to the supernatural deity (or deities) rather than individually relating to a particularistic cult. Religious action is characterised by the pursuit of salvation by individuals orienting themselves to the high spiritual reality.
4.    Early Modern Religion – based on the case of the Protestant Reformation, this is the collapse of the hierarchical structuring of both the empirical and transcendental worlds. “This” world is not rejected but the focus is now on a direct relation between the individual and the transcendental reality. Religious action is identified with the whole of life and the world is a valid sphere to work out the will of God. Religious organisations are also affected by the collapse of hierarchical structures as illustrated by the motto “the priesthood of all believers.” The outcome of this stage, according to Bellah is the image of the self-revising social order, expressed in a voluntaristic and democratic society.
5.    Modern Religion – while this may be only part of a transition to a further new stage, it is clearly different from the historical and early modern religions because there is a collapse of the dualism that characterised those earlier stages. Instead of a single world replacing the double one, an infinitely multiplex one has replaced the simple duplex structure. Religion is no longer the monopoly of explicitly religious groups. The mode of action implied by this image is one of continual choice, with no firm, predetermined answers and the social implications of modern religion include the image of culture and personality as perpetually revisable.

o   Church-oriented Religion as Peripheral: Luckmann
Luckmann proposes that the specialisation of religion into a single institution is only one social form of religion The characteristics of the institutional specialisation of religion include the emergence of specifically religious organisations (such as churches), the standardisation of doctrine (as in a creed), and the differentiation of religious roles – especially the emergence of religious specialists (such as the clergy). The clear distinction between religion and society is possible only if religion is differentiated in special social institutions, in this social form of religion.
Luckmann accepts the idea that the church-oriented religion has declined in influence and notes that vestigial (residual) strength of historic religion in modern societies lies among the peripheral members of society, that is those least involved in the major institutions of the public sphere. The decrease in traditional church religion may be seen as a consequence of the shrinking relevance of the values institutionalised in church religion, for the integration and legitimation of everyday life in modern society.
While this form is declining, religion itself is transforming into a new social form. A main feature of this new social form is personal choice: the individual constructs a private system of meanings, choosing from a wider assortment of religious representations (which include traditional religious representations). Such individual religiosity receives no significant support from the primary public institutions (such as work, education, law, politics); it is virtually totally privatised – supported by and relevant to relations in private life such as the family, social clubs, and leisure-time activities.
Like Bellah, Luckmann identifies as one of the central themes of modern religiosity. Luckmann suggests that individual autonomy has been redefined to mean the absence of external restraints and traditional limitations in the private search for identity. While themes of modern religiosity (self-expression and self-realisation) characterise this search, the institutions of the public sphere have real power over the individual; performance of one’s roles in these spheres must conform to institutional requirement and autonomy is limited to the private sphere. By endowing the increasing subjectivity of human existence with as sacred quality, the new social form of religion supports the functioning, power and control of public sphere institutions without explicitly legitimating them.

·         Religious Change and Societal Change
The secularisation thesis implies several processes of societal change. While these processes are interrelated, McGuire emphasises four general themes - institutional differentiation, competing sources of legitimacy, rationalisation and privatisation – which emphasise significant aspects of religious change.
o   Institutional Differentiation
Insitutional differentiation refers to the process by which the various institutional spheres in society become separated from each other, with each institution performing specialised functions. The contrasting image behind the concept of differentiation is that in simpler societies, the beliefs, values, and practices of religion directly influence behaviour in all spheres of existence, and religion is diffused throughout every aspect of society. In complex societies, by contrast, each institutional sphere has gradually become differentiated from others. The division of labour in complex societies is similarly differentiated, with specialised roles for each different function. In a highly differentiated social system, the norms, values, and practices of the religious sphere have only indirect influence on other spheres such as business, politics, leisure-time activities, educations and so on. This means that religion influences these other areas through the personally held and applied values and attitudes of people who are active in each sphere, rather than directly through specifically religious institutions such as the church. Some theorists point to differentiation as evidence of religious decline, interpreting the facts that religion is not diffused throughout the society and that specifically religious institutions have limited control over other institutional spheres as evidence of religion’s diminished strength and viability. Particularly important in this interpretation is the loss of control over the definition of deviance and he exercise of social control.
§  Implications for the Individual
For the individual, the process of differentiation involves conflicting development. On the one hand, differentiation appears to go hand in hand with the discovery of the self – the unique individual within society. On the other hand, differentiation results in segregation of the individual’s various roles in society. A woman’s role as a mother is not considered relevant to her role as mayor; a man’s role as religious believer is not considered relevant to his role as corporate manager. Values such as moral qualms or self-realisation are not necessarily negated; they are simply relegated to another institutional sphere and considered irrelevant if they do not contribute to achieving the goals of the organisation. The individual may experience a conflict between the needs and goals of the self and the demands of these social roles.
§  Implications for Society
Similarly the processes of differentiation contribute to society’s difficulty in mobilizing the commitment and efforts of its members. Values from one separate sphere do not readily motivate behaviour in another. The process of differentiation has important implications for the location of religion in contemporary society. The effective criteria of public institutional spheres – notably the economic – are separate from the values of the private sphere. Religion is relegated to the private sphere. An individual’s desire for meaning and belonging must be pursued in the private sphere. It would seem that the same differentiation that makes possible the “discovery of the self” also frees the institutions of the public sphere to ignore or counteract the autonomy of individuals under their control.

o   Competing Sources of Legitimacy
Legitimacy refers to the basis of authority of an individual, group or institution, by which they can expect their pronouncements to be taken seriously.  Legitimacy is not an inherent quality of individuals, groups, or institutions but is based on the acceptance of their claims by others. The location of religion in contemporary society reflects societal change in the bases of legitimacy. Relatively stable societies typically have stable sources of legitimacy. The key criterion in such societies is usually traditional authority such as the inherited authority of a patriarch or a king. Institutional differentiation often produces a different kind of authority: the authority of the holder of a specialised role of “office”. Claims to be taken seriously are based not upon who one is but upon what position one holds. The authority of a judge, for example, is based upon the role rather than the person.
Religion legitimates authority indirectly in traditional societies by its pervasive interrelationship with all aspects of society. Myth and ritual support the seriousness of all spheres of life. The chief, priest, or matriarch can speak with authority because their roles correspond to or reflect the authority of divine beings. Historic religions legitimate authority more directly. Such historic religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism have similarly given authority to pronouncements on education, science, economic policy, law, family life, sport, art, and music. Whether directly or indirectly invoked, the images and symbols of the sacred are a source of legitimacy. 
§  Competing Sources of Authority
The main feature of legitimacy in contemporary society is that the differentiation process has resulted in competition and conflict among the various sources of legitimacy of authority. In contemporary society religious institution must actively compete with other sources of legitimacy. Personal, social, and political authority are more uncertain.
§  Pluralism
One particular source of this uncertainty of legitimacy is pluralism, referring to a societal situation in which no single world view hold a monopoly. Pluralism is sometimes used in a narrower sense to describe the political or societal tolerance of competing versions of the truth. Pluralism, in both limited and broader senses, is a key factor in the secularisation process. Where world views coexist and compete as plausible alternatives to each other, the credibility of all is undermined. The pluralistic situation relativises the competing world views and deprives them of their taken-for-granted status. In a pluralistic situation, no single world view is inevitable. This results in various world views in society also competing for legitimacy. Pluralism, furthermore, made it possible to conceive of religions; the very concept implies a stance of some distance, a meaning system that one does not personally believe.
§  Pluralism and Legitimacy
One general impact of pluralism and differentiation is to create a problem of legitimacy for both the individual and the society. The problem of legitimacy at the societal level involves society’s very basis for authoritative decision making and its grounds of moral unity or integration. At the individual level, the problem of legitimacy makes the individual’s meaning system more precarious, voluntary and private.
§  Problems at the Societal Level
As world views and authoritative claims complete in a pluralistic situation, the sources of legitimacy are diffused among many agents in society. These competing claims may appeal to sacred or quasi-sacred sources of authority, even if not using explicitly religious symbols. The problem of legitimacy results from the collapse of a societal shared conception of order. Without agreement on the way to live together, claims of moral authority make no sense. This problem affects both individual and societal decision making. How is it possible for human values to determine public policy in a pluralistic society? Is the role of religion in political decision making reduced to that of one more interest group vying with opposing interest groups? Or is it even possible for a pluralistic society to agree on human values on a societal level? And if so, does the society consider human values relevant or important to decisions in the public sphere?
§  Unstable Sources of Legitimacy: Fenn
Richard K. Fenn’s defines secularisation as a process of dealing with uncertainty or ambiguity of boundaries between the sacred and the profane. It involves conflict among groups, individuals and the nation. It both disturbs and clarifies the sources of legitimacy of social and political authority.
·         The first stage of this process is the differentiation of religious roles and institutions. Fenn emphasises the extent to which certain changes are qualitatively different, suggesting that even the very concept of “religion” becomes problematic.
·         The second step is the demand for clarification of the boundary between religious and secular issues. The demand for clarification may produce a desire for some general, overarching symbols to which all competing groups can subscribe.
·         The third step is the development of generalised religious symbols or ideology. The generalised symbols may take the form of a civil religion such as America developed in the 19th century. This third step is typically unstable. Dissident minorities attack the generalised symbol system, especially its “inappropriate” uses of religious symbols.
·         The conflict of world views results in two seemingly disparate situations in Fenn’s fourth stage: the development of minority and idiosyncratic definitions of the situation, together with increasingly secularised political authority. On the one hand is pressure to desacralise the political authority – for example, removing and ideological notions of what is “good” from decision making and replacing them with criteria such as due process and technical procedures. On the other hand, challenging the civil religious synthesis results in spreading access to the sacred. Thus individuals and groups develop their own particular (that is, “idiosyncratic”) views and symbols for which they claim the same seriousness as recognised religions. Individual and group claims to social authority multiply as the uncertainty of boundaries become evident. According to Fenn, “secularisation increases the likelihood that various institutions or groups will base their claims to social authority on various religious grounds, while it undermines the possibility for consensus on the meaning and location of the sacred.”
·         Two contrary tendencies are found in Fenn’s fifth step. One is the separation the individual from corporate life. The other tendency is varying degrees of group pressure toward integrating personal value systems with activities in the public sphere. This tendency is expressed in different modes of religious organisation: church, sect, denomination, cult. Each mode has a characteristic stance toward the integration of value systems. At one extreme is satisfaction with minimal integration from groups that consider their values irrelevant to the public sphere. At the opposite pole are groups seeking totalistic solutions; these would include seemingly secular ideologies as well as overtly religious totalism.
Secularisation both disturbs and clarifies the bases of social authority. It is disturbing because it undermines the ability of society to maintain belief in a symbolic whole that transcends the separate identities and conflicting interests of society’s component parts. Pluralism and institutional differentiation are generally important factors in this process because they break down the overarching world view – the symbolic whole. These processes make it impossible to achieve a new firm source of societal integration and legitimacy. At the same time, however, they increase the likelihood that people will need and seek this symbolic whole.
§  Problems at the Individual Level
As pluralism undermines the taken-for-granted quality of the world view, the individual’s own meaning system receives less social support and becomes precarious, voluntary, and private. This too can produce conflict for the individual. Pluralism increases personal ambiguity: What am I to believe? How am I to act? On what basis can I decide? Personal value decisions are important, but a more critical issue at the individual level is the impact of the problem of legitimacy for personal identity, which is influenced and supported by religion. The individual’s world view is an important element of personal identity. The individual’s subjective meaning system legitimates that persona’s hierarchy of goals, values, and norms. What happens then, if this key part of the individual’s identity is undermined?

o   Rationalisation
Rationalisation is the process by which certain areas of social life are organised according to the criteria of means-ends (functional) rationality. Max Webber viewed an increasing emphasis upon functional rationality as the outstanding characteristic of modern society.
§  Rationality and Modernisation
According to Webber, modern Western society has a “rationalised” economy and an associated special “mentality”. A rational economy is functionally organised, with decisions based upon the reasoned weighing of utilities and cost. The rational mentality involves openness towards new ways of doing things (in contrast with traditionalism) and readiness to adapt to functionally specialised roles and universalistic criteria of performance. Although these forms of rationality originated in the economic order, they have extended into political organisation and legal order – the modern state. Weber argued that religious motives and legitimations played a central role in bringing about this form of organisation and mentality – for example, by the development of universalistic ethics (the norm of treating all people according to the same generalised standards) and by the development of religious drive for rational mastery over the world. Nevertheless this rationality, once a part of societal structure, became divorced from its historical origins and acquired an impetus of its own. If modern society is indeed moving in the direction of increasing functional rationality, this process implies problems at two levels: the location of individual meaning and belonging; and a conflict between corporate control and values verses personal autonomy and values. Personal meaning is not only relegated to the private sphere but is also undermined by the dominant rationality of other spheres. The individual seeking to apply meaning to personal experiences is in a weak situation relative to the powerful institutions for which individual meaning is irrelevant.
§  Disenchantment of the World
Another feature of rationalisation which undermines the individual’s personal sense of meaning and belonging was termed “disenchantment” by Webber. This is the process by which things held in awe or reverence are stripped of their special qualities and become “ordinary”. Protestantism thus brought about much disenchantment of what Roman Catholicism had held in awe, emptying the believer’s world of angles, saints, shrines, holy objects, holy days and elaborate sacraments. Rational science also promotes disenchantment, explaining natural phenomena without reference to nonnatural categories of thought. Phenomena previously attributed to miracles are reinterpreted by rational science as natural. The key figure of the rationalisation process is not so much the particular explanations of phenomena but the belief that all phenomena can be rationally explained. The way in which people think of the world becomes distinct from the way in which they think of themselves and each other. The process of rationalisation means that the rational mode of coginition applies to those institutional spheres that “really matter”; other modes of cognition are treated as frills of private life.

o   Privatisation
Privatisation is the process by which certain differentiated institutional spheres are segregated from the dominant institutions of public sphere and relegated to private life. This segregation means that norms and values of the private sphere are irrelevant to the operations of public sphere institutions; and that functions of providing meaning and belonging are relegated to institutions of the private sphere. Privatisation implies that the individual finds sources of identity increasingly only in the private sphere. This implies problems in legitimating oneself. Identity becomes problematic as sources of order, meaning, and community have been undermined; all have become increasingly voluntary and uncertain. Luckmann suggests that this voluntary quality contributes to a sense of autonomy in the private sphere, perhaps making up for the individual’s lack of autonomy in institutions of the public sphere:
            Once religion is defined as a “private affair” the individual may choose from the
Assortment of “ultimate” meanings as he sees fit – guided only by the preferences that are determined by his social biography. An important consequence of this situation is that the individual constructs not only his personal identity but also his individual system of “ultimate” significance.
This “self-selected construction” is, according to Luckmann, the contemporary social form of religion. While church-oriented religion continues to be one of the elements that some people choose for their constructions, the other themes from the private sphere (autonomy, self-expression, self-realisation, familism, sexuality, adjustment, and fulfilment) are also available in a supermarket of “ultimate” meanings.






[1] Bellah’s operative definition is that religion is a set of symbolic forms and acts which relate man to the ultimate conditions of his existence.