"Public religion" in a Secular Society: the Social Dynamism of Portuguese Catholicism

"Public religion" in a Secular Society: the Social Dynamism of Portuguese Catholicism

In an effort to develop innovative instruments for understanding religious transformations in a modern society, this research project is based on the familiar demarcation between social spheres in a number of functional subsystems such as politics, economics, science, education, law, the family and religion. The project starts from the empirical fact that many religions show a strong tendency for persuasion techniques closely related to particular areas of social life. This attempt at religious intervention in the social life of a society is one of the essential conditions for a religion to be considered public. Terminologically, a religion becomes public when it participates in spheres where diverse groups or individuals meet outside their own private space. Public religion does not correspond to the classic pairing of religious and public spheres, but to the active presence, influence or action of a religion in a modern society, independently of its links to state power. From this perspective, a religion is public when it defends not only its own freedom and rights, but also the general freedoms and rights of a modern society. A religion is public when it questions or challenges the autonomy of secular spheres that are not related with ethical or moral considerations. Finally, a religion becomes public when it defends the traditional ‘life of the world' from administrative and legal interference by the state. In creating specific proficiencies in these three areas, a religious system can maintain or re-establish a significant role in the life of modern societies. The main question therefore is: what are the limitations and possibilities for a public religion in a secular society and what role does public religion play in the social construction of daily life? In addition to their traditional spiritual functions, public religions again represent a challenge in regard to political power, economic decisions and ethical questions. Public religions generally seek to present their own proficiencies within secular life, developing a characteristic dynamism and specific forms of mass media. In summary, the first part of this research project mainly involves establishing a theoretical model to explain the division between the private and public spheres of a religion and to describe the relationship between religion and secular modernity.

The second part of the investigation involves an empirical determination of the area in which public religions seek to intervene in the construction of reality in secular societies and empirical observation of the transformations intrinsic to religion within the processes of modernity. Portuguese Catholicism, which has had to face enormous socio-political changes, particularly during the last century, provides an excellent opportunity for studying the social dynamism of a public religion. The project is based on the assumption that Portuguese Catholicism remains capable of interacting with a social world undergoing constant change and of developing its own proficiencies. The proficiencies of this religious system can be classified, for the time being, under four main headings: a) intervention in ethical and social issues; b) intervention, correction or criticism of political or economic decisions; c) upholding traditional beliefs and customs; and d) stabilising national identities. By seeking hermeneutic instruments to read and describe the social dynamism of Portuguese Catholicism, an examination of current religious proficiencies could facilitate the comprehension, for example, of the great rift in Portuguese society between the large percentage of people who describe themselves as Catholic (81%) and the low level of religious practice.

However, the social dynamism of Portuguese Catholicism cannot be fully unserstood without recognising that proficiencies are always marked by a certain reciprocal correlation with the circumstances of the social world within which the Church exists. That is, the circumstances of the social world also have an impact on religious systems. Interaction is only possible when the religious system is capable of responding to the characteristics of and changes within the social environment. The active response of the Catholic Church to the transformation of modern societies essentially began in the 1960s and is still influenced by Vatican Council II, which made the Catholic Church more fully aware of multiple economic, political and social realities. This change is reflected today in a plurality within Catholicism. This internal pluralism is promoted by the Church hierarchy with a view to increasing religious vitality and, as a consequence, the social dynamism of Catholicism. The second part of the empirical research work involves examining the correlation between this supposed internal plurality and social dynamism.

 

Estatuto: 
Proponent entity
Financed: 
No
Keywords: 

Public Religion, Secularization, Portuguese Catholicism, Popular Religiosity

In an effort to develop innovative instruments for understanding religious transformations in a modern society, this research project is based on the familiar demarcation between social spheres in a number of functional subsystems such as politics, economics, science, education, law, the family and religion. The project starts from the empirical fact that many religions show a strong tendency for persuasion techniques closely related to particular areas of social life. This attempt at religious intervention in the social life of a society is one of the essential conditions for a religion to be considered public. Terminologically, a religion becomes public when it participates in spheres where diverse groups or individuals meet outside their own private space. Public religion does not correspond to the classic pairing of religious and public spheres, but to the active presence, influence or action of a religion in a modern society, independently of its links to state power. From this perspective, a religion is public when it defends not only its own freedom and rights, but also the general freedoms and rights of a modern society. A religion is public when it questions or challenges the autonomy of secular spheres that are not related with ethical or moral considerations. Finally, a religion becomes public when it defends the traditional ‘life of the world' from administrative and legal interference by the state. In creating specific proficiencies in these three areas, a religious system can maintain or re-establish a significant role in the life of modern societies. The main question therefore is: what are the limitations and possibilities for a public religion in a secular society and what role does public religion play in the social construction of daily life? In addition to their traditional spiritual functions, public religions again represent a challenge in regard to political power, economic decisions and ethical questions. Public religions generally seek to present their own proficiencies within secular life, developing a characteristic dynamism and specific forms of mass media. In summary, the first part of this research project mainly involves establishing a theoretical model to explain the division between the private and public spheres of a religion and to describe the relationship between religion and secular modernity.

The second part of the investigation involves an empirical determination of the area in which public religions seek to intervene in the construction of reality in secular societies and empirical observation of the transformations intrinsic to religion within the processes of modernity. Portuguese Catholicism, which has had to face enormous socio-political changes, particularly during the last century, provides an excellent opportunity for studying the social dynamism of a public religion. The project is based on the assumption that Portuguese Catholicism remains capable of interacting with a social world undergoing constant change and of developing its own proficiencies. The proficiencies of this religious system can be classified, for the time being, under four main headings: a) intervention in ethical and social issues; b) intervention, correction or criticism of political or economic decisions; c) upholding traditional beliefs and customs; and d) stabilising national identities. By seeking hermeneutic instruments to read and describe the social dynamism of Portuguese Catholicism, an examination of current religious proficiencies could facilitate the comprehension, for example, of the great rift in Portuguese society between the large percentage of people who describe themselves as Catholic (81%) and the low level of religious practice.

However, the social dynamism of Portuguese Catholicism cannot be fully unserstood without recognising that proficiencies are always marked by a certain reciprocal correlation with the circumstances of the social world within which the Church exists. That is, the circumstances of the social world also have an impact on religious systems. Interaction is only possible when the religious system is capable of responding to the characteristics of and changes within the social environment. The active response of the Catholic Church to the transformation of modern societies essentially began in the 1960s and is still influenced by Vatican Council II, which made the Catholic Church more fully aware of multiple economic, political and social realities. This change is reflected today in a plurality within Catholicism. This internal pluralism is promoted by the Church hierarchy with a view to increasing religious vitality and, as a consequence, the social dynamism of Catholicism. The second part of the empirical research work involves examining the correlation between this supposed internal plurality and social dynamism.

 

Objectivos: 
The aim of this research project is to provide a sociological description and analysis of the role, transformations and proficiencies of a public religion in a modern society. Although there is not the slightest doubt within the social sciences that European societies have undergone a high degree of secularisation, this does not mean, and never has meant, that religion will automatically disappear. In this context, the loss of moral authority on the part of religious institutions, the removal of political power from the religious sphere and the decrease in religious practice are generally regarded as unequivocal indications of a process of secularisation. However, the comprehension and description of metamorphoses in social forms of religion should provide more complex and more sociologically interesting results than a simple enumeration of the effects of secularisation. The project will integrate with the scientific networks of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion and the International Association for the History of Religion.
State of the art: 
Embora o catolicismo portugu&ecirc;s continue a matizar as representa&ccedil;&otilde;es religiosas dos portugueses, h&aacute; apenas muito poucos estudos no ramo da sociologia portuguesa que tentam de explicar a rela&ccedil;&atilde;o entre este sistema religioso e a sociedade secularizada. <p>Algumas excep&ccedil;&otilde;es s&atilde;o as seguintes:</p><ul><li>CABRAL, Manuel Villaverde (2001) &quot;Pr&aacute;tica religiosa e atitudes sociais dos portugueses numa perspectiva comparada&quot; in J. Machado Pais; M. Villaverde Cabral &amp; Jorge Vala (Orgs.), Religi&atilde;o e bio&eacute;tica AS II, Lisboa, ICS.</li><li>PAIS, Jos&eacute; Machado (2001) &quot;O que explica a religiosidade dos portugueses? Uma analise tipol&oacute;gica.&quot; in J. Machado Pais; M. Villaverde Cabral &amp; Jorge Vala (Orgs.), Religi&atilde;o e bio&eacute;tica AS II, Lisboa, ICS.</li><li>VILA&Ccedil;A, Helena (2001) &quot;Identidades, pr&aacute;ticas e cren&ccedil;as religiosas&quot; in J. Machado Pais; M. Villaverde Cabral &amp; Jorge Vala (Orgs.), Religi&atilde;o e bio&eacute;tica AS II, Lisboa, ICS.</li><li>FERNANDES, Ant&oacute;nio Teixeira (1972) A Religi&atilde;o na sociedade secularizada, Porto, Livraria Civiliza&ccedil;&atilde;o.</li><li>FERNANDES, Ant&oacute;nio Teixeira (2001) Formas de vida religiosa nas sociedades contempor&acirc;neas, Oeiras, Celta Editora. </li></ul><p>O projecto &quot;A religi&atilde;o p&uacute;blica numa sociedade secular: O dinamismo social do catolicismo portugu&ecirc;s&quot; pretende de preencher esta lacuna.</p>Internacionalmente o estudo mais importante nesta &aacute;rea foi publicado em 1994 por Jos&eacute; Casanova sob o t&iacute;tulo &quot;Public religions in the modern world&quot;. Este trabalho, que est&aacute; considerado como um dos trabalhos mais importantes dos &uacute;ltimos anos, serve como&nbsp;esp&eacute;cie de fio de ariadne para o projecto aqui apresentado.
Parceria: 
Unintegrated
Coordenador 
Start Date: 
01/01/2009
End Date: 
01/12/2011
Duração: 
35 meses
Closed