Mary Douglas on Modernity and Secularism

The European history of ecclesiastical withdrawal from secular politics and from secular intellectual problems to specialized religious spheres is the history of this whole movement from primitive to modern.

Purity and Danger, by Mary Douglas, p 115.

Yet she claims that Muslims are not primitive (p 114). I'm not sure she's right, indeed one could argue that Eastern Orthodox Christians have not made the same secularizing moves that she rightly recalls in European history. This is not to belittle Muslims or Orthodox, but rather to point out how shaky the foundations of 'modernism' are.



Don said…
The "European history of ecclesiastical withdrawal" wasn't an entirely voluntary process. It was forced on it by secularist people and forces who wanted to displace the civil power of the church with their own, irrespective of whether that transformation was good, bad, or indifferent. That's certainly the experience of the French and has been replicated elsewhere.

The biggest "elsewhere," of course, is Orthdox Russia. The ROC got back the Patriarchate only to lose their status as a legal (let alone official) religion.

Turning to the issue of primivitism vs. modernity, it can be shown that primitivism is in fact a characteristic of modernity. Good example of this is the neopaganism which was an important underpinning of National Socialism in Germany. So I think here that she's making a distinction without a difference.

As far as Islam being non-primitive, Ferdinand Lot's comment here should put the lie to that. Islam is not primitivistic in the way that, say, Pentecostalism is, but it amounts to the reimposition of desert society. One of the tugs of war within Islam is how to manifest that primitivistic impulse in a technolgically advanced society.

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