An Overview of
The Invisible Religion
Copyright 1967 by The Macmillan Company
Thomas Luckmann proposes that the social sciences almost exclusively are concerned with the analysis of social systems, but they must not ignore the fate of the individual in society. Where man fits into the social order is most frequently articulated in the fields of the social sciences and more specifically in the field of sociology. The impact of society in the course of individual life, with rapid social change, increasing social mobility, family structure transformations, high organization of the various social institutions, tends to produce certain difficulties in the adaptation of the individual to the social order. These difficulties might appear quite dramatic to the individual, who sees them as historically unique in the condemnations of contemporary society. The theory of social change, from a diagnostic perception of the relation between the individual and society in history, produces the hypothesis that a fundamental shift occurred in the position of the individual in the social order of modern society. The effect of society on the individual can be interpreted as symptoms of his relocation in the social order.
Luckmann’s assumption, that individual existence and its relation to the social order is historical, produces the problem that individual existence in society has reached a critical point in the contemporary world. He maintains that the relevance of sociology for contemporary man derives primarily from its search for an understanding of the fate of the person in the structure of modern society. He states that in order for the sociologist’s theory to be relevant to his fellow-man, he must not fail to formulate it objectively and in a manner, which permits the inspection of evidence, which should be his most important aim.
The problem of individuality within society, according to Luckmann, can be unified in the sociological theory of religion, which he says, can be attributed to Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. He states that both were interested in the fate of the individual in modern society and recognized that the character of society had serious consequences for the individual person. Their concern for the social conditions of the individual, he claims, clearly expresses the moral engagement of their sociological theorizing. Both Durkheim and Weber sought to understand the social position of the individual in the study of religion. For Durkheim, the symbolic reality of religion is the core of the collective conscience and its internalization by man makes him into a social and moral human being. For Weber, the social conditions of individualism is more specific in the historical context of particular religions and their relation to historical societies. Both Durkheim and Weber linked the problem of the individual in modern society directly to the secularization of the contemporary world. Both recognized this as a religious problem.
The sociology of religion consists of an increasing number of studies in the demography of churches, statistics of participation in church related activities, analyses of sectarian movements, monographs of ecclesiastic organizations, and various studies of religious beliefs. But according to Luckmann, finding theoretical significance amidst all these studies is disappointing. The new sociology of religion has neglected its most significant theoretical task, which is to analyze the changing social basis of religion in modern society. The answer to this problem may be found in the cumulative findings of investigations in areas such as industrial and occupational sociology, the family, mass communications, leisure, and those few studies in the sociology of religion which go beyond the scope of traditional church religion.
In the absence of an organized theory, Luckmann proposes that some assumptions have developed that perform the function of theory. The main assumption consists in the identification of religion with the church, which has the most important consequences for research and theory in the sociology of religion. Religion becomes a social fact either as institutionalized ritual or doctrinal ideas. The identification of religion with the church fits into sociology as the study of social institutions. The well-known thesis that religion is a primitive stage in the evolution of human reason and would eventually be replaced by science has contributed to the misunderstood assumption that secularization is measured by the decline of the churches. This view of secularization tends to be explained by transformations in other areas of the social system, such as urbanization and industrialization, which were believed to undermine traditional institutions such as the church. The assumption that church and religion are identical is accompanied by the idea that individual religiosity is based upon psychological needs which are both defined and met by the church.
Luckmann says this is an inadequate system for understanding the relationship between the individual, religion, and society. He believes individual religiosity cannot be understood without reference to a given historical and institutional reality of ritual and belief. These assumptions are based upon an identification of religion with its institutionalized form; therefore, the discipline of sociology accepts the ideology of the churches as valid interpretations of the range of their subject matter. The new sociology of religion is exclusively concerned with church oriented religiosity, but has failed to continue the theoretical traditions of the classical sociology of religion. It fails to concern itself with the location of the individual in society, whose position is essentially religious.
Author Kimberly Hartfield’s A Little Redneck Theology
Individual religiosity, Luckmann acknowledges, is shaped by a historical church, which forms a doctrine that is codified in sacred texts, which in turn are transmitted and interpreted by an official body of experts in a binding manner for the laymen. As a historical institution, the church also develops traditions rooted in the interests of these administrative elites. The individual is socialized into the official model of religion to the intent that it constitutes his system of ultimate significance, which is incorporated into a worldview. The internalized model retains its meaning in the life of the individual by integrating and legitimizing the norms of conduct that govern the routines and crises of his existence. This model is elaborated by the experts and its various dimensions become the subjects of specialized knowledge in the form of doctrine, liturgy, and social ethics which places an emphasis on faith, good works, or ritual correctness.
The internalization of the model formulates in the individual specific norms of conduct and belief, which in turn defines role requirements. Religion may be perceived by the individual as the fulfillment of the particular role requirements. The segregation of these norms from the world, Luckmann says, could weaken the integrating function of religious representations for everyday conduct if not countered by the pervasion of religion in society. The fulfillment of these requirements becomes highly routine, threatening the ultimate significance to the individual, although the sacred quality of the norms continues to be nominally recognized. The model may still be plausible enough to motivate the fulfillment of specific norms, but could decrease to the extent that the institutionalized requirements are no longer observed by the typical members of society, unless non-religious motives are substituted for them. Since the official model is interpreted by the experts, who may become oblivious to the typical routines and crises of the laymen, this poses a danger of separation in the views of the experts and the matters of ultimate significance for the laymen. This can be countered, though, by interpretive translations of the doctrines of the theologians into the language of the laymen by a body of pastoral specialists. Combined with distinct models of church oriented religiosity and the routinization of the fulfillment of specific religious norms, this separation of views can be an important factor in the genesis of secularization.
Institutional specialization of religion transforms the relation of the individual to the worldview and in turn to the social order in general. The church enters into relationships with other specialized institutions whose primary functions are secular. The relations of the church to political and economic institutions range from mutual support to accommodation to competition to open conflict. In contexts of these relationships, the church inevitably develops secular interests of its own in addition to its doctrinal and liturgical traditions. Economic, political, and administrative practices are designed, which compromise the original intents of the church in the understanding of those who take the specific religious claims of the church literally. If the official model is taken at face value, they may question the legitimacy of these operations. In transmitting the official model to the laity the religious experts must give sacred explanations for the secular activities of the church. This pluralistic situation threatens the stability of the model. Competing institutions vie for official status habitually claiming doctrinal superiority and a higher degree of purity from secular involvements. The history of sectarian movements in Christianity provides ample support for this observation, Luckmann states.
The doctrine of the visible and invisible church in Christian theology serves as an example of the divergence of the official model of religion with the socially predominant view of ultimate significance. Institutional specialization of religion which includes standardized transmission of the official model, a doctrinal cannon and controls against deviation, decisively reinforces its textual stability, which is one of the most important vested interests of the influential body of religious experts. Under conditions of rapid social change, perspectives of consecutive generations will inevitably differ causing a serious problem for the specialized religious models. Due to its textual and organizational limitations, the official model of religion predictably changes at a slower pace than the social conditions that modify the predominant individual view of ultimate significance.
Some individuals may continue to adhere to the claims of the official model, eliminating any secular inconsistencies, which can lead to an inability to perform nonreligious roles effectively, and to a form of martyrdom resulting in a partial withdrawal from the world, accompanied by tolerable compromises with the world. But the conflicting requirements of religion and the world stimulate the individual to reflect on possible solutions. In the leap of faith solution to the problems of life, individual religiosity is reconstituted after a phase of doubt. If a plausible solution is not found, the routine of the pre-reflective attitude will continue to be followed. Another possibility is the formation of a value system in which religious roles are performed for secular reasons or wholly abandoned. Luckmann claims that at various levels of reflection, the individual tends to restrict the relevance of religious norms to areas that are not anticipated by secular institutions, making religion in essence a private affair. The institutional specialization of religion increasingly transforms it into a private reality, in which the liberation of individual consciousness from the social structure and the freedom in the private sphere provide the basis for the sense of autonomy characterized by the typical person in modern society.
The consequences of specialization and the observations on the relation between the official model and individual religiosity prepare for the analysis of religion in modern society, which cannot honestly attribute the decline of Christianity’s traditional forms to the advent of secularist ideologies. The decline of traditional Christianity, Luckmann believes may be symptoms of a more revolutionary change, which could implicate the replacement of institutionalized religion by a new social form of religion. Factors that cause a growing incongruence between the official model and individual religiosity, disrupting the identity of church and religion, are present in this social form of religion. With a sense of autonomy, the individual is more likely to confront the culture of religion as a consumer, choosing from the assortment of ultimate meanings as he sees fit. Through a certain level of subjective reflection and personal choice, he constructs both his personal identity and his individual system of ultimate significance. The autonomous consumer selects certain religious themes from the available assortment and builds them into a private system of ultimate significance, making individual religiosity no longer a replica of an official model. Church religiosity can be viewed as one manifestation of an emerging, institutionally non-specialized social form of religion, which continues to occupy a special place because of its historical connections to traditional Christianity. This social form of religion emerging in modern industrialized societies is characterized by the direct accessibility of an assortment of religious representations, which makes religion essentially a phenomenon of the private sphere. This implies that there is no obligatory model of religion, but that religious themes continue to be socially mediated in some form.
Luckmann speculates that religious themes originate in the private sphere, resting primarily on emotions and sentiments that are sufficiently unstable to make their articulation difficult. These highly subjective themes are not defined by primary public institutions, but can be taken up by secondary institutions such as advice columns, inspirational literature, and popular song lyrics, which expressly cater to the private needs of the autonomous consumer. The primary institutions regulate the legal and economic frame within which the competition of the ultimate significance market occurs. The selection is based on consumer preference, Luckmann states, which is determined by the social biography of the individual, while similar biographies will result in similar choices. The autonomous individual will not only select certain themes but will likely construct a well-articulated private system of ultimate significance. The prevalent individual systems will consist of an unstable hierarchy of opinions legitimizing the priorities determined in private life.
In the absence of external support by primary institutions, subjectively constructed religiosity with its diverse systems of ultimate significance will have an uncertain reality for the individual. While these systems are characterized by considerable variability in content, they are structurally similar and relatively flexible. These systems of individual religiosity are supported by other persons in the private sphere, partially sharing and jointly constructing their ultimate significance, with no apparent conflict with the norms of the primary institutions. Support for these subjective systems may come from family, friends, neighbors, and significant others who share in the construction and stabilization of private universes of ultimate significance, with family being the most important medium. If these private universes unite to some degree, the groups may assume sectarian qualities, developing the secondary institutions referred to earlier.
The character of religious institutions was radically transformed by their loss of monopoly in defining the sacred universe. They are forced to compete with many other sources of ultimate significance for the attention of autonomous individuals. Since they are recognized as religious and claim a connection to the Christian universe, they continue to enjoy a certain advantage in the open market. To the extent that traditional Christian conversation survives, Luckmann alleges that it provides a vocabulary that disguises some newly emerging themes. These themes are internalized in a significantly different manner in different social sections. The dominant themes in the modern sacred universe bestows an almost sacred status on the individual by articulating his autonomy, which is consistent with the finding that ultimate meaning is found by the typical individual in modern industrial societies primarily in the private sphere of his private biography. The traditional symbolic universes become increasingly irrelevant to the everyday experience of the typical individual and lose their character as a reality.
Luckmann states that man’s individual autonomy represents the absence of external restraints and the traditional taboos in the private search for his identity. Since the inner man is an undefinable entity, its supposed discovery involves a lifelong quest. The individual embarks on a journey of self-realization and self-expression that is intermittent because it is immersed in the recurrent routines of everyday life. Since his conduct is controlled by the primary public institutions, he recognizes the limits of his autonomy and learns to confine his search to the private sphere. Luckmann concludes that the modern sacred universe symbolizes the social-historical phenomenon of individualism, which bestows ultimate significance on the structurally determined private sphere. The structure of the modern sacred universe and the theme of its content represent the emergence of a new social form of religion, which is determined by a radical transformation in the relationship of the individual to the social order.
The secularization of the church, therefore, is not simply a symptom of the modern industrialized society, but is in fact a metamorphosing of the church within the church. As the external church appears to be declining to the undisciplined eye, its members are in essence becoming a new creation within the cocoon of the traditional Christian Church. The autonomy of the individual is a necessary stage in the development of the true church, which will worship in spirit and in truth rather than in the ritualistic outward manifestations of the traditional church. The convictions by the Holy Spirit of the autonomic individual must take precedence over the traditional model of institutionalized practices and faith. As the metamorphosing completes its cycle, the true church will emerge in a social revolution that will change the world. The divisions between denominations will fall as Christians abandon the disguises that have so long kept us in the ritualistic garb of the cocoon, though it was necessary to protect us through the cold season of reformation. The invisible religion will emerge from its cocoon and feed on the sweet nectar of the Spirit, and rest safely in the hand of God until we fly to the heavens a new creature.
- Durkheim and religious experience (orgtheory.wordpress.com)
- Enraptured with Sociology (nortonbooks.typepad.com)