How can one explain the resurgence of religion, even in a western context of rationality and scientific endeavour? The persistence of religious expression has compelled even diehard secularists, or proponents of the 'secularization thesis', to rethink their positions. Jonathan Benthall explains precisely why societies are not bound to embrace western liberal rationality as a socio-evolutionary inevitability. He shows that the opposite is true: that where a secular society represses the religious imagination, the human predisposition to religion will in the end break out, whether in New Age cults or in surprising, apparently secular, modes and outlets. One form of what he calls 'para-religion' is a kind of secular spirituality or secularised faux-belief that manifests itself within movements and organisations that consider themselves motivated by wholly rational considerations. Benthall uncovers a paradox: despite themselves, they are haunted by the shadow of irrationality. Drawing on the work of anthropologists such as Mary Douglas and Alfred Gell, and on current American and French scholarship which rejects precise attempts to define religion, he proposes detailed criteria by which a broad 'family resemblance' between religious movements may be identified. Acknowledging that political philosophies like Communism and Nazism, some movements in the arts, and intellectual schools such as psychoanalysis all have 'religioid' aspects, Benthall extends the argument to include humanitarianism, environmentalism, the animal rights movement and popular archaeology and anthropology. His startling conclusion is that religion, rather than coming 'back', in fact never went away. A human universal, the 'religious inclination' underlies the fabric of who and what we are: we cannot choose to repudiate it, only how to channel it.
Returning to Religion
Why a Secular Age is Haunted by Faith