Secularization and the Rise of Religious Fund sentimentalism
How strong is the influence of religion in contemporary life? Some analysts believe that secularization the decline in the significance of the sacred in daily life-has occurred; consequently, there has been a resurgence of religious fundamentalism among some groups. Fundamentalism is a traditional religious doctrine that is conservative, is typically opposed to modernity, and rejects "worldly pleasures" in favor of otherworldly spirituality. In the United Slates, traditional fundamentalism primarily appealed to people from lower-income, rural, southern backgrounds; however, the "new" fundamentalist movement of the 19BOg and 19905 has had a much wider appeal to people from nil socioeconomic levels, geographical areas. and occupations. One reason for the rise or [undamentalism has been a reaction against modcrnlzation (Shupe and Hadden. 1989). Around the world, those who adhere to fundamentalism-whether they are Muslims, Christians, or followers of one of the other world religions-believe that sacred traditions must be revitalized. In the United States, public education has been the focus of some who follow the tenets of Christian fundamentalism. For example, various religious and political leaders have vowed to bring the Christian religion "back" into the public life o£this country.
TIley have been especially critical of educators who teach what they perceive to be secular hllmal/ism-the belief that human beings can become better through their own efforts rather than through belief in God and a religious conversion. According to Christian fundamentalists, elementary schoolchildren do not receive a
fair and balanced picture of the Christian religion, but instead are taught that their parents' religion is inferior and perhaps irrational (Carter, 1994).
But how might students and teachers who come from the diverse religious heritages that we have examined in this chapter feel about Christian religious instruction or organized! prayer in public schools? Man}' social analysts belie+e that such practices would cause conflict and perhaps discrimination on the basis of religion. For example, Rick Nelsun-a teacher in the fairfax County, Virginia, public school system-describes the potential effect of religious teaching and group prayer on students in his classroom: I think it really trivializes religion when you try to take such a serious topic with so many different viewpoints and cover It in the public schools. At my school we have teachers and students who are Hindu. TIley are really devout, but they are not monotheistic .... I "Ill not opposed to individual prayer by students. I expect students to pray when I give the III a test. 1 hey need to do that for Illy tests. ... But when there is group ?rayer ... who's going to lead the group? And if I had my Hindu students lead the prayer, I wiU tell you it will disrupt many of my students and their parents. It will disrupt the mission of my school. unfortunately ... if my. students are caused to participate in a group Hindu prayer. (CNN, 1994)