David Lyon argues that religion is not declining with the shift from modernity to postmodernity, rather it is simply relocating to the ‘sphere of consumption’ as people selectively choose which aspects different religions to use at different points in their lives.
David Lyon suggests there are two main social changes which characterize the shift from modernity to postmodernity:
- The spread of computer and information technology- which allows for information to spread much more rapidly and much more globally.
- The growth of consumer culture. The normalizing of consumerism means that people have come to expect choice in every aspect of their lives: not only in terms of the products they buy, or where they go on holiday, but also in terms of their religious beliefs and practices.
David Lyon thus argues that the shift to postmodernity does not mean that religion has necessarily declined in purpose, it has simply moved to a different sphere of social life – to what he calls ‘the sphere of consumption’. People expect choice in every other area of their life, and they expect to be able to choose their religion too.
Lyon uses the example of religious belief in Canada to illustrate that religion remains important to most people, but only when they selectively choose it to be, in line with their own individual needs.
Lyon pointed out that 80% of those who did not attend church on a regular basis still drew selectively on religion during critical times of their lives, such as during marriage and death.
This is far from religion ‘disappearing’ from social life altogether, and thus Lyon theorizes that religion has shifted from a social institution which imposes norms on people to a cultural resource which people selectively draw on when they see fit.
To put this another way, rather than Christianity (for example, in the Christian West) being the grand narrative which dictates what people’s lives should be like, people now construct their own ‘narratives’, their own life stories, but they still look to religion to help them write the stories of their lives, but only at certain times.
People also seek a greater diversity of ways to express their faith in postmodern society, and religion has actually been very successful at adapting to fit these needs.
Jesus in Disneyland
Lyon uses the example of Christian singers appearing on stage at Disneyland during religious festivals, amidst all of the other Disney paraphernalia going on around them, to illustrate how religion has adapted to fit the postmodern society: it is no longer confined to traditional settings, and has become part of a more diverse, chaotic and fluid postmodern social landscape.
Finally, Lyon suggests that another important feature of postmodern society is de-differentiation, which involves the distinction between different areas of social life becoming blurred – and the example of ‘Jesus’ in Disneyland demonstrates this: religion has adapted to become part of a ‘fun’ leisure environment….it has become detraditionalised, but this does not necessarily mean that it has become any less important!
Find out more:
Read ‘Jesus in Disneyland‘ (2000) by David Lyon
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