Charles Taylor in ‘A Secular Age’ describes an emerging kind of belief -known as ‘believing without belonging’ as Grace Davie coined, or ‘nominalism- through a ‘penumbra’ effect. Although such believers are nominally Jewish, Christian, Muslim and so on, but they take a minimalistic approach to religion/faith and do not employ religious values, morality, and responsibility in their life beyond limited and occasional commitments to religious, social rituals. This diffused belief, however, plays a significant role in society if religion is being considered as ‘social glue.’
Religion in Christian western countries -and these days even in countries where Muslims are the majority- is becoming individualistic and personal. On the other hand, there were particular concerns from early times of modernity and emergence of secularity about how political and social unity can be attained in a modern and secular age. The institute of religion is going to lose its long lasting social authority, and a huge void regarding social-cultural unity is coming forth. It is somehow the fragmented nature of modern and secular culture. However, it is not the whole story.
People’s common faith contributes to society’s collective identity, even in the rise of individualism and secularism. This idea can be traced back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who in the last chapter of ‘The Social Contract’ emphasises on the role of religion in state and proposed the legislator to benefit the strategic use of religion in society. In other words, the state also can drive benefit from people’s common faith, even in ‘believing without belonging’ condition, to strengthen its sovereignty. In addition to what Taylor provides as contemporary evidence for this role of diffused belief, the increasing number of unaffiliated people in Russia, Brazil, and Iran who still know themselves nominally Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim respectively shows the still-living social side of belief/religion. In these countries and societies, religion has been integrated to people’s conception of nationality over a long history.
Taylor raises this question that if the diffusive belief is merely a transitional phenomenon which ultimately will lead to full secularism. He reflects that although diffusive belief for some people is a transitional phase to become wholly unaffiliated, it seems that society’s ‘spiritual identity’ still is fed by known religious forms, maybe because, as Taylor expresses, “History is hard to deny”.
* Thanks to Johannes Zachhuber for providing his insight in this regard.