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Individualization

Drawing on the empirical data of the early 1960s, Luckmann pointed to the growth of American churched religion. For Europe as well, recent studies have pointed to the fact that a significant amount of prototypical privatized religious action either happens within the wider framework of religious affiliations or tends to build networks (Bochinger, Engelbrecht and Gebhardt 2009; Wilke 2013). And yet, most of these modifications remain faithful to the dominant sociological narrative of modernization theory. ‘Individualization’ is regarded, even in popularized sociological discourse, as a characteristic feature of the modem age far beyond the realm of religion. It is taken as one of the dominant features of ‘modernity’, although usually - and unlike Luckmann - these popularized views lose sight of the paradoxical rise of mass culture as a concomitant mode of integration. Even if there are differences in the importance of the notion of individualization in particular sociological theories of modernity, it has a firmly established place in all classical sociological accounts (Kippele 1998). In these theories, religion, it must be stressed, is negatively related to the process of individualization. With the exception of a few thinkers, such as Georg Simmel (1858-1918) (Simmel 1908, 1968) and later Luckmann. who reflected upon the specific function of religion for the constitution of the individual in society, it is as a consequence of secularization that religion is held to have fallen prey to those processes characterized by individualization.

Even in those master narratives which accord a prominent place to religion, individualization did not suddenly pop up in the 19th or 20th centuries. The narratives of the chronologically preceding processes, which were thought to form the basis of the equation of individualization and modernity and were

Individuals’ religion 27 all located in a small area of Latin Europe, took quite different forms. In his famous study of the Italian Renaissance, Jacob Burckhardt (1818-97) claimed that interest in the subjective dimension of human experience increased considerably in the European context from the end of the 13th century onwards (Burckhardt 1860, 141). Later studies showed how, in this period, new and ground-breaking philosophical, aesthetic, philological, and religious alternatives, as well as new institutions, helped to create spaces of distance towards, and critique of, what came to be regarded as ‘traditional’ society and practices (e.g. Martin 2004). Renaissance paganism became not only an aesthetic form but also a religious alternative (a premise which remains controversial; see Stausberg 2009). The processes of religious individualization that can be identified in these contexts were also inspired by late medieval practices of religious piety (devotio moderna). Later in the early 16th century, the Reformation made religion the object of individual choice, thus creating space for the individual. Although the dominant Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophical paradigms had come under scrutiny during the Renaissance, reformers now questioned a dominant religious tradition - that of Catholicism.

However, during this new phase the orthodox interpretations were not only supplanted by intellectual and artistic enterprises but were openly opposed. Particularly trenchant criticism came in the form of Max Weber’s (1864—1920) thesis on the Protestant ethic, in which he emphasized the turn towards inner-worldly asceticism, the responsibility of each individual for his or her life, and the ‘rationalization of the conduct of life [Lebensführung] - now in the world yet still oriented to the supernatural [Jensreligiously induced types of individuality (Weber 1996; Dumont 1975, 1986). Louis Dumont (1911-98), a French anthropologist who specialized in the cultures and societies of India, identified Indian tendencies towards individualization in the phenomenon of ascetic renunciation. Dumont supposed that in traditional societies individualism could only appear in a clear opposition to society (Dumont 1986, 26); societies composed of self-oriented individualists are a modern phenomenon. Historically, the individualism identified by Dumont was the opting out of society by somebody who replaced any interest in this-worldly society with an extra-worldly orientation (a sannyasin). However, he thought that Indian individualism remained ineffective in the long term. It did not, he argues, arrive at the same theocratic radicalization of the social order witnessed in Europe. In Europe, the religious authorities of the church and the pope were made superior, in a first phase, to the more worldly powers of the emperor and nobles. Then, in a second phase, the religious freedom of the individual was established in the institutionalized shape of a post-theocratic society itself.

Careful analyses such as this, or the earlier views advanced by Max Weber (1921, 1996), were easily silenced by the domination of the European imagination by the Orientalist stereotype of Asian despotism and collective protagonists such as the ‘castes’ (Said 1978; Fuchs 1988; Assayag, Lardinois and Vidal 2001). Individualization was seen as a prerogative of the unique Western modernity. This led even as far as the insinuation that in certain nonEuropean contemporary (but also known as premodern) cultures people lacked even the possibility of formulating any opposition of interests between ‘themselves’ and ‘society’. This view has been successfully criticized by anthropologists (e.g. Spiro 1993).

Even these elaborate analyses, which detected pre-modern and nonChristian forms of individualisation, reflected still strong traces of Orientalist stereotyping of Asia and of the Western tradition of ‘othering’ the non-Western world (Fuchs 1988) ... they continued considering the modern religious as well as secular forms of individualization as the both more authentic and historically more advanced forms. While scholars like Weber and Dumont reflect the beginnings of an awareness of the wide array of modes of religious individualization, the understanding that individualization is a distinguishing mark of the unique Western modernity remained nevertheless largely prevalent.

(Fuchs et al. 2019b)

In an enormous volume summarizing recent research at the Max Weber Centre, this notion has been contested in studies ranging in scope from the ancient world to present-day India (Fuchs et al. 2019a).

Recent work on the religion of premodern and pre-Christian antiquity, usually characterized as ‘collective’, has produced similar results. The extensive ancient discussions about religious deviance and attempts to legally standardize religious behaviour attest to the perception and acceptance of an extensive religious individuality practised in a variety of forms, often resembling those of‘modern individuality' (Riipke 2013, 2016).

 
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