When halal turkeys sell for Thanksgiving, "Happy Holidays" drowns out "Merry Christmas," Easter egg hunts replace Mass celebrating the Resurrection, and sacred Catholic terms in Quebec serve only as swear words, culture has parted ways with religion. French professor Olivier Roy built his career analyzing Islam's political aspects, and in this new study, he broadens his view to also investigate Christian and Jewish reactions (with glances at Hindu and Buddhist contexts) to secularization. While the dense results in awkward prose, translated (from the 2008 French original) by Ros Schwartz, slow down any reader of this brief book, they deserve attention for Roy's explanations of what happens when multiculturalism and diversity produce a "holy ignorance" where an anti-intellectual reaction to modernization opposes a world of many opposed or divergent believers, or of none.
Religious advocates may boast of a comeback, but Roy labels this resurgence as a transformation. Even if religions appear more visible now, they are fading. More people are not returning to a familial religion, for many of their recent ancestors have already abandoned its practices. Rather, believers often come as converts or born-agains, and they may demand sudden acceptance by a religious community from which the individual seeker has been estranged. This "unsaid" culture, that of subtle customs and unspoken norms, may appear alien to the eager newcomer. Those who were raised within a religion they may follow to greater or lesser degree, casually as well as fervently, may disdain the bumptious aggression of the novice who demands too loudly to be accepted as genuine. Here, Roy shows, the cultural aspects have been, for many discontented seculars who wish to reconnect with religion, already attenuated.
Four reactions define historic and current responses by religion as it seeks to survive within its milieu. First, deculturation occurs when Christians try to wipe out indigenous faiths, or when orthodox Islam dominates the Indian subcontinent. Acculturation happens when the Jews of the Enlightenment adapt mainstream European values, or as India's natives integrate Christian or Islamic influences. Inculturation places liberation theology at the center of Latin American's indigenous ideologies. Finally, exculturation marks the Catholic or evangelical reactions we witness, as these powers fight a rearguard action against a worldly set of values now ascendant.
Religious defenders react in three ways. First, they may regard the competing culture as "profane," and look down upon it. The ultra-orthodox Jewish man may speak to God in Hebrew and to his family in Yiddish; the religious signifier separates from the everyday means of communication. Next, the religious movement may see the state as "secular," and regard it as parallel in function, as in the model of the First Amendment's separation of powers. The third approach treats the secular society as did the early Christians that of Rome: as the "pagan" enemy.
Two-thirds of this text explores cultural dimensions; the last third expands into globalization. Acculturation and deculturation both accelerate, as these two processes become more systematic, and more generalized. Acculturation expects that the dominant model imposes itself on a defeated group, which reacts by integrating or resisting. The free-market model counters that individuals choose now their affiliation, freed from territory or culture in which they were raised, and aided by the Net, tv, and media.
The professor concludes that "religion has lost its original and perhaps incestuous link with culture." Family life alters as individual choice determines partnerships. Self-realization, for converts alongside those who have grown up guided by a doctrine's decrees, trumps "natural law." Religions, for Roy, will continue to drift away from a uniform global culture even as their followers find themselves on archipelagos, in real or virtual spaces within but apart from the rest of the world.