Religion in the Future
Debates over religion, particularly issues such as secularization and fundamentalism, will no doubt continue; however. many social scientists believe that religion is alive and well In the United States and in other nations of the world. Not only nre we seeing the creation or new religious forms, but we are also seeing a dramatic revitalization of traditional forms of religious life (Kurtz. 1995). One example of this change is liberation theology- the Christian movement that advocates freedom from political subjugation within a traditional perspective and the need for social transformation to benefit the poor and downtrodden (Kurtz, 1995).
Although liberation theology initially emerged in Latin America as people sought to free themselves from the historical oppression of that area, this perspective has been embraced by a wide variety of people, ranging from African and African American Christians to German theologians and some feminists. Another example of changes in the nature of theology is found in some feminist movements that have turned to pagan religions and witchcraft as a means of countering what they consider to be the patriarchal structure and content of the world's religions. For instance, the Goddess movement encompasses a variety of countercultural beliefs based on paganism and feminism, and is rooted in acknowledgment of the legitimacy of female power as a "beneficent and independent power" (Christ.il 987: 121). What significance will religion have in the future? Religion will continue to be important in the lives of many people. Moreover, the influence of religion may nbe felt even by those who claim no religious beliefs of their own. In many nations, the rise of religious nationalism has led to the blending of strongly held religious and political beliefs. The rise of religious nationalism is especially strong in the Middle East, where Islamic nationalism has spread rapidly and where the daily lives of people, particularly women and children, have been greatly affected (luergensrncycr, 1993). Similarly. in the: United States the influence of religion will be evident in ongoing political battles over social issues such as school prayer, abortion, gay and lesbian rights, and family issues. On the one hand, religion may unify people; on the other, it may result in tensions and confrontations among individuals and groups. However, according to the legal scholar Stephen L. Carter (1994),
The tension between religion and other social institutions is not always negative. Carter believes that one of the most cherished freedoms in the United States is religious liberty. Maintaining an appropriate balance between religion and other aspects of social life will be an important challenge flU the future. In contrast, totalitarian states find all carioict threatening and often quickly remove religious liberty when a statist dictator takes control. As we have seen in this chapter. the debate continues over what religion is. what it should do. and what its relationship to other social institutions such as education should be. It will be up to your generation to understand other religions and to work for greater understanding among the diverse people who make up our nation and the world But there is reason for hope. as one scholar explains: [People 1 know that religion. Cor all its institutional limitations. holds a vision of life's unity and meaningfulness, and for that reason it will continue to have a place in their narrative. In a very basic sense. religion itself was never the problem. only social forms of religion that stifle the human spirit. The sacred lives on and is real to those who can access it. (Roof. 1993: 261)