On Thursday I’ll be presenting a paper at the 11th Conference of the European Sociological Association in Turin, co-authored with Gerardo Marti, ‘The Deconstructed Church: The Emerging Church Movement as a Response to the Crisis of Modernity.’
The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Crisis, Critique and Change.’ My paper is included in the programme of the Sociology of Religion Research Network.
I’m on a panel on ‘Religious Answers to Existential Crisis / to the Crisis of Modernity,’ along with Stefania Palmisano of the University of Turin (‘The Paradox of Monasticism in Modern Times’) and Margherita Picchi of the University of Napoli (‘Battle between Islam and capitalism’: an Islamic Solution to Egypt’s Post-War Crisis).
The Deconstructed Church: The Emerging Church Movement as a Response to the Crisis of Modernity
This paper will explore material presented in a forthcoming book by Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2014).
The Emerging Church Movement (ECM), a growing phenomenon in Western Christianity, can be understood in part as a response to the crisis of modernity. Part of the crisis of modernity is that many people no longer trust ‘institutions’ across all spheres of life. The ECM responds to the lack of trust in institutions by deliberately creating ‘anti institutional’ structural forms, including pub churches, experimental congregations, and neo-monastic communities.
Other aspects of the crisis of modernity are increased pluralism, and the hyper-individualization of the self. The ECM responds to these trends by creating communities with loose boundaries of belonging and belief (so that pluralism is not just tolerated, but celebrated as a positive religious value); while at the same time encouraging people to follow individualized religious paths. In this Emerging Christians resemble Heelas and Woodhead’s ‘spiritual, but not religious’ selves. But they differ by emphasizing the cultivation of tight-knit communities, in which the development of the individual religious self is linked to ‘relationships’ and participating in an on-going ‘conversation’ about faith.
Ultimately, we argue that the ECM represents a religious critique and alternative to modernity not only by creating a space for modern/post-modern individuals to express their religiosity, but also by contributing to structural change in some ‘modern’ religious institutions, including traditional Western denominations.