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Religious Organisation. A Survey of Some Récent Publications / Organisations religieuses. Bibliographie thématique - article ; n°1 ; vol.57, pg 83-102

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Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1984 - Volume 57 - Numéro 1 - Pages 83-102
20 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.

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Publié le 01 janvier 1984
Nombre de lectures 18
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M. Jim Beckford
Religious Organisation. A Survey of Some Récent Publications /
Organisations religieuses. Bibliographie thématique
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 57/1, 1984. pp. 83-102.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Beckford Jim. Religious Organisation. A Survey of Some Récent Publications / Organisations religieuses. Bibliographie
thématique. In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 57/1, 1984. pp. 83-102.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1984.2308
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/assr_0335-5985_1984_num_57_1_2308Arch Sc soc des Rel. 1984 57/1 janvier-mars) 83 102
James BECKFORD
RELIGIOUS ORGANISATION
SURVEY OF SOME RECENT PUBLICATIONS
étude sociologique des organisations religieuses évolué tant en
réponse aux changements survenus dans la pratique religieuse
en réponse ceux intervenus dans environnement social des
groupes religieux Il en résulte que des tensions se font sentir entre
des concepts éprouvés et des phénomènes qui semblent échapper
leur emprise Ainsi inventaire des contributions montre que
chez des classiques ce sont les thèmes de la sécularisation et de
la modernité qui ont le plus retenu attention inverse dans les
années 1960-70 la préoccupation majeure est portée sur les
conditions sociales favorisant authenticité personnelle et enga
gement face un relativisme rampant et indifférence religieuse
De telle sorte que des mots comme glise secte et culte
ont dû être adaptés des notions mouvantes de la problématique
des organisations religieuses Tout particulièrement la popularité
subite de nombres de nouveaux mouvements religieux au sein et
en dehors des grandes glises nécessitait une réadaptation des
vieux concepts De plus de nouvelles idées sur les réseaux infor
mels sur la mobilisation des ressources sur la négociation de or
dre ont commencé influencer la recherche sur les organisations
religieuses
INTRODUCTION
make no claims about the exhaustiveness of this survey of recent
publications dealing with the topic of religious organisation It is actually limit
ed in four important ways First it is largely limited to works published since the
appearance in 1975 of my Trend Report and Bibliography on Religious Orga
nisation Beckford 1975 Second it consists mainly of English-language pu
blications although have tried to draw upon the resources of some other Euro
pean languages Third it deals primarily with religious organisations in the
Judaeo-Christian cultural sphere Fourth and most importantly the survey is
83 DE SCIENCES SOCIALES DES RELIGIONS ARCHIVES
intended only to highlight those works which illustrate what perceive to be ma
jor trends the mass of publications that could have been listed My strategy
has therefore been to restrict the survey to fairly small number of themes indi
cating relatively fresh directions in theoretical and conceptual thinking about re
ligious organisation
brief note about the notion of religious organisation is necessary at this
point The term refers to the fact that in addition to the doctrinal experiential
metaphysical philosophical therapeutic cultural and devotional aspects of reli
gion the religious life is practised through the medium of regular structured so
cial relationships The form of these relationships varies widely from group to
group and over time as well Their salience in the lives of practising religionists
is also variable But their general importance to the production and reproduc
tion of religious thoughts feelings and actions cannot be seriously doubted My
argument is not that the organisational aspects of religion are all-important nor
do deny that sub specie aeternitatis they may appear to be trivial in signifi
cance What am contending is merely that the social organisation of religious
groups is an important key to sociological understanding of their structures
and processes Nothing more and nothing less cannot improve upon Gustaf-
1961 evocation of the many-sided character of religious groups 1)
My plan is to begin with review of elaborations on the most abstract pro-
blematics concerning the place of religious organisations in the modern world
and then to survey work at progressively lower levels of abstraction The amount
of discussion devoted to each sub-topic reflects my evaluation of their respective
importance in the overall corpus of recently published work on religious organi
sation
Changing problematics
The first observation to be made on high level of abstraction is that in
common with wider developments in sociology questions of organisation have
ceased to be in the forefront of sociological studies of religion This reflects not
just shift in the preferences of sociologists but also change in the preoccupa
tions of religionists In the past ten or fifteen years priority has been accord
ed to such other facets of religion as personal experience meaning identity and
healing They have been characterised as inner intrinsic devotional or
privatised see for example Wuthnow 1978 Ellwood 1979 McLoughlin
1978 By comparison theoretical interest in the forms ofsocial organisation
through which even inner religion is conveyed has been in decline
Until the 1970s the dominant problematic in studies of religious organisa
tions had been concerned with the tension between the forces of tradition and
reason These organisations were interesting primarily because they were seen
to be torn between the imperatives to be rational effective and efficient in an
increasingly competitive environment and stable reassuring and personal in
response to felt religious needs Indeed the theoretical models of church and
sect were largely framed in these terms by Max Weber who saw in them de
vice for capturing the essential meaning of socio-cultural tensions in the modern
world pathos of rationalisation is evident in his writings
84 RELIGIOUS ORGANISATION
Ernst use of the church-sect-mysticism model was basically dif
ferent He was concerned less with capturing the distinctive qualities and ten
sions of modernity than with isolating the ineradicable and recurrent antinomies
within the Christian Gospel and its socio-cultural embodiments There is
strong current of optimism in his account of the dialectical relations between
church sect and mysticism This is sharply contrasted with the pathos of com
promise which pervades Richard theorising about the transition
from sect to church and the social sources of denominationalism in the U.S.A
Despite their differences the Weberian Troeltschian and Niebuhrian pers
pectives provided conceptual framework within which it was possible to cons
titute the study of organised religious collectivities as an important sociological
task For this task was central to their respective interpretations of modernity
And their insights have subsequently inspired many analyses of religious and
quasi-religious organisations The question of the degree to which any particu
lar organisation was church-like or sect-like was taken seriously for what it im
plied about that capacity to survive in the modern world
It is important to establish the centrality of church-sect theorising to the
early sociological study of religious organisation if only because it draws atten
tion to the fact that it was dominated by considerations of rationalisation and
compromise Things began to change in the 1970s however at time when
Christian churches in many countries were found to recognise that in the face
of intractable moral dilemmas social divisions and declining influence the pro-
blematics of rationalisation and compromise were no longer of the first priority
see Beckford 1976 Indeed agreement on priorities of all kinds was declining
in many religious organisations It was at this point that new set of theoretical
problems was taken up by sociologists and religionists alike It had to do with
authenticity and commitment in an age of growing pluralism relativism and in
difference
Instead of being centred on questions about the calculus of goals and re
sources ends and means or purity and power the problematic which emerged
in the 1970s turned on questions about the capacity of religious organisations to
foster sense of personal authenticity conviction and self-identity From this
new perspective the historical drama of church-sect dynamics was seen by
many to be irrelevant if not actually obstructive see Swatos 1981 for some
purposes The new questions were directed at religious collectivities as sites
for varieties of personal fulfilment
The literature on religious organisations has been dominated since the early
1970s by questions about the inspiration recruitment and mobilisation of reli
gious actors Empirical research has focused on currents of enthusiasm and con
viction both inside and outside the major religious groups Concern with the re
gular structures and processes of mainstream churches has correspondingly de
clined except in so far as they are thought to affect the dynamics of recruitment
and mobilisation This is most noticeable in the profusion of works on church
growth an

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