tuesday evening i attended a lecture by harvard religion professor dr. harvey cox entitled, ‘the future of faith.’ the lecture was sponsored by the ucla center for the study of religion, and introduced dr. ra’anan boustan, who is taking over as director for the outgoing dr. scott bartchy, who has directed the center for 14 years.
professor cox spoke about his new book, ‘the future of faith,’ and made three brief points:
1. religion has not disappeared, it is growing. despite claims in the 60s that religion would disappear with the rise of science, it has not. in fact, religion has grown. pentecostalism is the fastest growing area, probably because of its simplicity and experiential focus. more xns now reside in asia, south america, and africa than in the traditional ‘christian’ areas of europe and north america. religion has not died, but it has transformed.
2. fundamentalism is dying. fundamentalism is not evangelicalism. sectarianism is dying because it requires too much energy in a socially networked world. sectarianism/fundamentalism requires physical and social isolation to thrive, but global communications, travel, and the internet (particularly social networking) puts the thoughts and ideas of all peoples within reach, harming fundamentalism. likewise, sectarianism cannot act politically, only unilaterally, because political success requires working with groups unlike one’s own. evangelicalism is shifting from a movement with a few large litmus issues (like abortion and the role of women or gay rights) to more complex issues of race, poverty, and social justice. evangelicalism is moving away from the ‘infallibility and inerrancy’ of the bible, to a place where the bible plays a role in instruction.
3. there is a change in the nature of religiousness. the change is characterized by a transition from doctrine to experience, from a hierarchical model to a communitarian one. doctrine has given way to issues of social justice. worship is now less geared towards an audience and more towards a participative experience. beliefs have given way to actions and a way of life way. dr. cox pointed out that there was no common creed for the first 300 years of christianity, yet it seemed to thrive. the rise of orthodoxy made christianity into more of an oppressive doctrinal system, one that is only now beginning to reemerge as a force for social justice rather than a political tool.
i agreed with many of the observations that dr. cox made. he noted the perceived rise of fundamentalisms in the muslim world is only the exception to the rule, and that this militancy has more of a nationalistic/tribal basis and less of a religious one (religion being the tool used inappropriately to bring about their desired political order). he was charming, confident, and humble. i enjoyed the lecture.