Death Metaphors and the Secularisation Debate: Towards Criteria for Successful Social Scientific Analogies
by Ed Dutton
University of Oulu
Sociological Research Online 13(3)3
Received: 4 Feb 2008 Accepted: 24 Apr 2008 Published: 31 May 2008
The aim of this article is to examine the successfulness of death metaphors in the contemporary debate over the Secularisation Theory. Through doing so, the article will propose criteria by which the success of a metaphor in the sociology of religion and in social science more broadly can be assessed. It will examine metaphors employed by Stark, Bruce and Callum Brown. It will firstly discuss the nature of the Secularisation debate, metaphor and metaphor in sociology and science more broadly. Then, drawing upon previous research in this area, it will discuss the use of metaphor and analogy in academic discourse and examine criteria by which the success of scientific metaphors might be assessed. Thereafter, it will look at the successfulness of the main recent metaphors employed by proponents and critics of secularisation in terms of these criteria.
Keywords: Analogy, Death, Secularisation, Scientific Metaphor
Introduction1.1 Academic literature is a style of writing. There are certain styles and conventions that distinguish academic writing from such forms as journalism and creative writing. However, one device that is often used in different ways by non-academic and academic writers alike is that of metaphor. Many physical scientists have attempted to explain their findings by means of metaphor. Galileo, for example, explained the motion of the earth by using the image of a ship. In the Sociology of Religion, the Secularisation debate the arguments over whether or not industrialised countries are becoming, on various levels, less influenced by religion - has made considerable use of the metaphor of death in its most recent manifestations. These have included 'Christianity in Britain: RIP', 'Secularisation: RIP' and 'The Death of Christian Britain.'
1.2 The purpose of this article is to examine some of these metaphors and to assess their usefulness to the Secularisation Debate and more broadly their success as academic metaphors. This article will propose a set of criteria by which a successful metaphor from a social scientific perspective can be identified and developed, something germane to the social sciences more broadly. As such, it will aim to assist scholars in producing successful metaphors in addition to examining their success in a particular sociological debate.
1.3 This article will discuss what is meant by metaphor before discussing the use of metaphor in sociology. It will look at how metaphor has been employed in the sciences previously. Thereafter, it will examine the Secularisation debate itself and discuss the various different interpretations of the Secularisation theory, drawing upon the scholars whose secularisation metaphors will be examined. It will then propose a set of criteria for a useful academic metaphor and will examine the Secularisation discussions presented by various sociologists of religion in this light.
What is Metaphor?2.1 This question has evoked much debate amongst academics from many different disciplines and is, perhaps, far from being satisfactorily answered. In attempting to deal with this question, it would be useful to distinguish between the perception of metaphor merely as a literary device in certain written contexts and metaphor as a means through which reality is perceived. The metaphor has been understood, in its most basic form, as a process by which aspects of one particular object are carried over to another (Hawkes 1972, 1). Theodore Brown argues that a metaphor involves applying aspects of the 'source domain' to the 'target domain' (T. Brown 2003, Ch 1). As such, if one were to say that, 'The book was staring me in the face!' one is anthropomorphizing 'the book' and imbuing it with, or carrying over to it, either human or animal qualities. A simile is a slightly different kind of analogy in which the comparison is made in clear language rather than being merely implied. Both the 'metaphor' and the 'simile' are 'analogies' but they are distinguished by differing forms of linguistic convention. A metaphor (or simile) makes sense only in the context of a shared system of categories and signs upon which both the writer and reader are able to draw.
2.2 The use of metaphor in the Secularisation Debate has not previously been examined. There is, however, a limited amount of research in the Sociology of Religion looking at the issue of finding appropriate metaphors through which to discuss religious phenomena. However, these discussions do not draw upon systematic criteria. McConkey (2001), for example, examines the degree to which the metaphor of 'Warfare,' as it relates the behaviour of evangelical groups, is or is not germane.
Metaphor and Academic Writing3.1 More broadly, Gentner has looked at 'academic metaphor' and emphasised that it had been surprisingly little explored up until that point (Gentner 1982, 106). Lakoff and Johnson produced a seminal study of this issue, arguing that a conceptual metaphor involves understanding one conceptual domain in terms of another conceptual domain. Through this, they argued, it is possible to discern the central connecting idea in everyday metaphor. Thus, 'Life is a Journey' connects two domains through the idea of progression to an end point (Lakoff and Johnson 1980). Indeed, many evolutionary psychologists have argued that human 'understanding' is ultimately based around metaphor. Put simply, the human mind is divided into three 'cognitive domains' social, environmental knowledge and technical. The human mind is distinguished by an ability to apply one cognitive domain over to another noted, for example, in the tendency to anthropomorphise nature and thus apply social knowledge to the environment. Thus, thought and understanding are ultimately metaphorical (see, for example, Mithen 1996) a point that has also been argued by Post-Modern scholars such as Derrida (1998).
3.2 Gentner cites a number of different examples of academic analogies such as 'Rutherford's comparison between the atom and the solar system.' (106) He equally argues that some academic analogies have perhaps been less than successful. He cites as an example the concept of 'urban blight' which seems to treat a city as though it were 'afflicted' rather than 'organically sound.' Indeed, he emphasises that, 'Some of these analogies have suggested deep research, while others have merely provided a kind of spurious feeling of comfort' (107). A number of other scholars have examined the importance of a base metaphor in theory building in the sciences. Brown examines the way in which the metaphor of a 'channel' has been employed to understand the operations of a cell membrane (T. Brown 2003, Ch 1). Both Theodore Brown and earlier Bradie (1984) discuss the way in which metaphors in scientific discourse can develop. They both argue that if the metaphor is convincing on a sufficient number of levels then it can develop into a 'scientific model' which is further built upon.
3.3 But how can we assess whether or a not a metaphor is successful scientifically? Gentner assists us by providing us with a functioning model by which we might be able to assess the usefulness of a particular analogy or metaphor in scientific terms. Gentner argues that 'analogy' is an example of structure mapping between systems, for example between the abstract on the one hand and the visible on the other. Hence, the apparently 'known domain' the visual perhaps is mapped onto the 'domain of enquiry' the abstract (108). This is as distinct from 'similarity', in which the comparable domains are of the same kind. Gentner thus suggests that it is the 'over-lap' between these two different domains which fosters the analogy. There are a series of qualities that we would expect to find in a successful scientific analogy. Firstly, there is base specificity. That is to say that 'The better analysed the base (that is the thing to which the abstract is compared in relation to it) the clearer the candidate set of importable relations will be' (113). It is thus important that an appropriate analogy is found and this requires considerable research and thought on the part of the scientist. Clarity is vital and in assessing an analogy we must ask how clear and how clearly explained it is. Equally important is richness, that is to say the extent to which the two domains in question are comparable. Is the comparison a multi-layered one or merely a superficial analogy? The next important factor is systematicity. This is the interrelatedness of the diverse dimensions of the analogy, as these components would presumably be inter-related in the tangible as well as in the abstract. Thus, to what extent do the aspects of the analogy belong to a mutually constraining system'? (114). The scope and validity of the analogy must also be considered. Hence, Gentner suggests that we might ask whether a comparison between the solar system and an atom actually only works with a hydrogen atom rather than all atoms. Finally, Gentner argues that we must fully understand whether the purpose of a given analogy is to explain and predict or merely to 'express,' which would involve 'evoking' or 'describing' (118).
Criteria for a Successful Academic Metaphor4.1 Having established what we mean by 'metaphor' and some of the discussions regarding what makes a successful academic metaphor, let us now turn to developing criteria for a successful metaphor. But before setting out such criteria, I think we should ask a fundamental question. What is the point of using metaphors in social science? Implicit in Brown, Gentner and others is that the metaphor makes the scientific idea easier to understand. As social scientists our aim is to better understand social phenomena through detailed empirical research and, indeed, through the development of scientific models, as occurs in all sciences. Moreover, it is to convey our ideas clearly and accurately to other academics and, ultimately, to the general public. These ideals have been advocated by various scholars as far back as Socrates himself (see Chermiss 1980 or Jaspers 1960). I appreciate that some scholars such as those involved in the Frankfurt School or some Post-Modernists would regard critiquing and changing society as equally important. But I would submit that, even from their perspective, we have to 'understand' society in order to improve it in some way and our ideas even when they openly advocate social change or engage in a strong critique of current paradigms need to nevertheless convey complex information, rendering metaphor a useful tool. With that in mind, I would like to propose and discuss two criteria for a successful academic metaphor.
4.2 Richness: This brings together the analyses of Gentner and Brown. In effect, Gentner argues that the successful academic metaphor works on many levels and provides us with a method to produce such a metaphor (clarity, base analysis and so forth). Brown argues that a successful metaphor must be a foundation for future development and must be sufficiently trenchant for this to be possible. I think that both of these ideas can be summed-up as 'richness' but I will deal with the question of layers first. A scientific metaphor must work on many layers. If it does not work on many layers then I would suggest that it is potentially confusing and misleading because the reader might have the right to assume, unless otherwise stated, that it would. Social scientific writing is an example of writing and as we would want such writing to be of the highest possible quality we would expect a proposed metaphor to work on many levels. Purely from a literary perspective, it is a poor metaphor if does not work on many levels because it does not assist in picturing or understanding whatever it is that it is attempting to describe. These levels would include Genter's conceptions of 'richness' and inter-relatedness.' However, I will not use 'clarity' because I am interested in the success of the metaphor in itself whereas this factor deals with how well it is explained by the author.
4.3 But returning to Brown, it must also be possible to develop the metaphor. In a sense, this is a sign of it being multi-layered. It is also indicative of the degree to which it is a contribution to academic discussion. Just as academic research is not especially useful if it cannot be drawn upon and developed, the same may be said to be true of an academic metaphor. If it is genuinely a helpful means through which to understand a concept, then one will be able to develop the metaphor and, through so doing, further understand the concept and, in the case of secularisation, how institutional religion might decline further. If it is unsuccessful, then developing it will involve moving increasingly away from reality. Thus, these two related factors multiple layers (including richness, inter-relatedness and clarity) and development potential can be summarised as 'richness.'
4.4 Dispassion: While Gentner and Brown provide us with criteria for producing a rich metaphor, I would argue that this should not be the only criterion for an academic metaphor's success. Its success should also be assessed in terms of the degree to which it fulfils the aims of academia. As such, the metaphor must strictly avoid fallacy even by implication. Formal fallacies would obviously not be directly relevant to academic metaphor and dispassion but 'informal fallacies' may well be. These would include 'appeal to ridicule,' 'appeal to emotion' and 'retrospective determinism,' whereby it is assumed that something was inevitable because it occurred. Lack of clarity in explanation would be a fallacy whether deliberate or not as it would, perhaps, be an 'appeal to verbosity'.
4.5 A successful metaphor must not be overly emotive and it must not over-reach itself. As the aim of employing the metaphor is that the idea be better understood, an emotive metaphor can be counter-productive. Firstly, an emotive metaphor may lead to an inaccurate picture on the part of the reader whether an academic or simply an interested party of the idea that is being discussed. Related to this is the possibility that because the metaphor is emotional with many associations it will 'stick' in the public's mind. Even though it is inaccurate, it will skew public understanding of an idea even if this is not academically justified.
4.6 To give a contemporary example (in Europe at least), what if one was to refer to some asylum-seekers as 'leeches'? It may be possible to argue this and it may work on many levels but it is such an emotive metaphor that even if it is inaccurate it is likely to 'stick' and influence perceptions. Such a metaphor may be superb rhetoric but it is unworthy of the academic because it does not purely assist in understanding a concept. In a sense, it persuades by a means other than academic rigour rendering it a kind of sophistry; a fallacious appeal to emotion. In this regard, one might also suggest caution in using metaphorical titles not so much for peer-reviewed journal articles (which are generally only read by academics or, occasionally, undergraduates) but for book titles. An overly-emotive metaphor puts the idea 'out there' in the public mind whether it is accurate or not. People may well remember and often vaguely accept (as a summary of the person or group's arguments) the metaphor without bothering to delve deeper in it. Thus, if a scientific metaphor receives media coverage it is important that it is not overly-emotive and this is significant with regard to Secularisation because this area of research does receive notable media coverage. This raises a noteworthy point. Seventeenth century philosopher John Locke was highly sceptical of metaphor, seeing it as a literary device, inappropriate for scientific discussion (T. Brown 2003, Ch. 1). I think that this point is valid in as much as an emotive image could help to unjustifiably persuade. The sociologist must 'get the balance correct' between helping to make a concept easier to understand and unduly influencing the reader. Equally, academic discussion should be about the quality of arguments not about the individuals or groups propounding them. Thus, if one were to produce a metaphor which implied that those with whom one has academic differences are, in essence, 'idiots' then that metaphor, no matter how rich or subjectively accurate, is not appropriate for academic discourse. It is an appeal to ridicule. It can be accused of attempting, in effect, to silence or at least demean opposition. We might expect this of political demagogues but not of those engaged in producing scientific metaphors.
4.7 It might be countered that emotive metaphors are useful in terms of fostering 'understanding' because they are able if sufficiently disseminated to provoke public discussion and thus widen understanding of a topic. However, I would argue that an emotive metaphor is therefore only indirectly contributing to knowledge. The emotive metaphor provokes debate and it is this discussion stimulated by the metaphor which widens knowledge rather than the metaphor itself. Indeed, it might be argued that it is precisely through nuancing and debating an extreme and emotive metaphor that knowledge is furthered, but this, I think, further demonstrates the importance to understanding of an appropriate metaphor. I appreciate the potential for an emotive metaphor to aid understanding insofar as it stimulates debate but this is an indirect connection and what this article aims to do is understand the kind of metaphor that directly aids understanding. Of course, it might be argued that for an academic to publish an illogical book on a topic would aid public knowledge inasmuch as it might be rigorously critiqued thus highlighting the issues.
4.8 Also, I am not suggesting that all metaphors be judged by the criteria that I have outlined. There is a strong rhetorical dimension to metaphor and it might be argued, by some, that a metaphor is successful precisely because it stirs up emotions and assists in dissociating a group. But, of course, this again raises my direct and indirect distinction. The ability of a university lecturer to dissociate his students through the use of appropriate metaphors aids their understanding in the sense that they will be more likely to absorb and remember the information helping them to discuss and 'understand' it. But there is a difference between that and providing them with a really trenchant and profound comparison which directly assists them in making sense of a topic. Though that latter metaphor may be inherently rhetorical to some extent, it will hopefully directly aid their understanding and if of sufficient depth it will be possible to build upon it further. It is metaphors in this context that directly aid understanding that can be judged by their in-depth relationship with the source domain and thus their ability to make ideas easier to understand.
4.9 Equally, I appreciate that in writing it might be suggested that it is impossible to get away from metaphor. Post-Modernists such as Derrida (1998) argue that all language is ultimately metaphorical a view echoed by evolutionary psychologists - and that, moreover, the metaphors of a given text can be dissected to discern the world-view and presuppositions of the writer. Following this, it might be suggested that metaphor and the use of language itself is inherently emotional because of the layers of subjective meaning associated with words and the impossibility of not conveying some kind of ideology albeit unconsciously through ones use of language. Indeed, it might be submitted that reality itself is simply layer upon layer of metaphor as reality is only apprehended through metaphor. It might even be argued that the very notion of 'reality' is an example of metaphor usage and it is therefore impossible to talk about metaphors 'successfully' representing some kind of 'reality' because we are simply drawn down to a further metaphor through language. I can only counter that in writing this analysis I am aiming my writing at a community which, I assume, apprehends the world in a relatively similar manner to the way in which I do and shares certain assumptions about logic and the empirical method, though there may of course be variations within the community. It is this and in particular the use of the empirical method and thus perhaps 'Western thought' that I take as my starting point. It is perhaps beyond the scope of this article to examine Post-Modernism in detail and try to attempt to refute it. Post-Modernism itself reflects a world-view of some kind and an appeal to a certain community as well. Personally, I appreciate Sandall's (2001) implied argument that Post-Modernists and Cultural Relativists, if they really believe that the empirical method or Western thought is 'just another ideology', should go to a tribe for treatment next time they are a gravely ill. I appreciate that this might be seen as a use of rhetoric but I think it is a genuinely thought-provoking and intelligent argument.
4.10 In the following analysis, then, I will assess the success of certain metaphors in the secularisation debate according to the two criteria. I appreciate that there may well be further criteria and there is always going to be an element of the subjective in suggesting criteria of this kind, hence my drawing upon previous discussions. I would only hope that this article, in addition to the analysis, might make the contribution of stimulating further fruitful discussion in this regard. However, I would submit that the two out-lined above are certainly germane criteria, summarising previous debate and moving it in a clearer direction.
The Secularisation Debate5.1 In the remainder of this article, I will concentrate on the Secularisation debate. In particular, I will concentrate on a relatively recent set of discussions on this issue amongst Stark, Bruce, and Callum Brown. The reason for this very specific focus is that the debate in question has involved a considerable (and perhaps not always entirely successful) exchange of metaphors and this has most clearly been seen in 'Death Metaphors.' It is not the aim of this article to criticise either the Secularisation Thesis or any presentation of it. I have, however, pointed to inconsistencies in Bruce's presentation simply for the purpose of clarity though I appreciate that my summary is far from exhaustive. In summary, Stark published an article entitled 'Secularization: RIP' (1999) while Bruce published an article entitled 'Christianity in Britain: RIP' (2001). Brown's volume on Secularisation was entitled The Death of Christian Britain ( 2001). Within Stark's discussion was a further metaphor of religion. Secularisation-proponents such as Bruce were referred to as 'Prophets of Secularisation,' a metaphor that is not unrelated to the religious overtones of 'RIP.' I therefore intend to concentrate on these metaphors while I do, of course, appreciate that there are various others within the broader debate on the subject. But it would firstly be useful to look, at least to a degree, at the nature of the current debate over Secularisation theory, especially as propounded by the writers of these metaphors. As this article concentrates on metaphor there will be a relatively brief summary of the Secularisation debate. In summarising it, I have drawn mainly upon Bruce and Stark (and the discussions that they cite) as it is their Secularisation metaphors upon which I am focussing.
5.2 Bruce, whose metaphor we shall draw upon, claims that in many ways, the term 'Secularisation Theory' is misleading because it encompasses a number of theories which sometimes differ from each other to a substantial extent (Bruce 2002, 1). One of the earliest Secularisation theories was presented by Comte. He argued that human history could be divided into three phases: Theological, Metaphysical and Scientific. Thus, he compared humanity as a whole to the evolution of the human mind from primitive to complex. Hence, we see, perhaps, the earliest use of metaphor in the Secularisation debate. Other early sociologists, such as Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber all believed that religion would eventually decline (see Bruce 1992, 170-94). Weber presented the theory of 'rationalisation' and suggested that as society rationalised, it would become increasingly differentiated and fragmented. This, in turn, would lead to a lessening in the power, over society, of institutional religion (Bruce 2002, 3). In presenting this argument, or the rationalisation aspect of it, Weber used the metaphor of the 'iron cage,' arguing that rationalization would heavily control the individual as religion once had (Weber 1958, 181). Since the 1960s, a number of different interpretations of Secularisation have been presented, many of them in broad agreement. Berger and Luckmann (1966, 74) claim that the process involves 'the progressive autonomization of societal sectors from the domination of religious meaning and institutions.' Martin (1969, 116) argues that rationalisation leads to an increase in human empowerment and thus a decline in religious perspective and activity. Equally, Wilson (1982, 149) argues that the process involves the decline in religious consciousness and its replacement by a rational, empirical worldview.
5.3 These views of Secularisation are very similar to those propounded by Bruce (2002), upon whose use of metaphor much of the article will focus. It is also the view of Secularisation implicitly propounded by Callum Brown. Bruce argues that 'modernisation creates problems for religion' (Bruce 2002, 2). Bruce defines religion by following 'common usage,' rather than understanding it in any broader sense. As such, for Bruce, 'religion' must involve 'gods' or 'impersonal powers.' (2) By 'modernisation' Bruce means industrialisation and the consequent migration to cities and towns, individualism, egalitarianism and the increasing significance of scientific thought. (2) Modernisation, Bruce continues, has led to a decline in the social significance of religion and an increase in 'positivistic orientations' (3) amongst the formerly religious general public. Modernisation is understood to have precipitated this. It has led to social differentiation, to give just one example of many factors submitted, which has made the maintenance of a 'single moral universe' more difficult (9). Now, Bruce goes even further than Wilson and suggests that Secularisation involves a reduction 'in the number of people interested in religion' (41). Bruce's conception of Secularisation has been criticised on a number of grounds and he has sought to defend it against such criticisms. Stark, amongst others, has cited historical evidence to suggest that there was never a 'Golden Age of Faith' and that in reality pre-modern man was not perhaps as religious as is sometimes assumed (46). Bruce attempts to counter these views, at times perhaps inconsistently. He argues that the fact that Medieval peasants did not attend church frequently does not mean they were irreligious (47). Yet, he employs the lack of contemporary church attendance as evidence that people are less interested in Christianity: ' . . . it is difficult to suppose that the almost universal decline of the Christian churches in Britain does not signify a decline in the demand for Christianity' (71).
5.4 A slightly different view of Secularisation is propounded by Stark, one which is criticised by Bruce. Stark and Finke (2000, 58), unlike the advocates discussed above, argue that Secularisation has an end point in the effective extinction of religion. Bruce (2002, 1) argues, perhaps not without good reason, that this is something of a misinterpretation of the theory. The theory of Secularisation associated with Bruce, has been further developed by a number of scholars. Casonova (1994) argues that though religion might decline in terms of institutional significance, it will not necessarily decline on other levels. Equally, Dobbelaere (1981) sees Secularisation in terms of level, arguing that just because a religious organisation declines, it does necessarily mean that religiosity declines. Davie (2000) argues in favour Hervieu-Leger's (2000) model of 'Religious Memory,' claiming that modern society is less able, due to rationalisation, to maintain its 'Religious Memory' through ritual practice and this leads to religious decline. Having established the background to the debate, I will now turn to the individual examples of death metaphor employed.
'Secularization: RIP'6.1 How, we must ask, does this title operate as an appropriate metaphorical summary of Stark's arguments in relation to this issue? Clearly, 'RIP' is a meaningful acronym in the mainly anglophone community of American and British readers to whom Stark is appealing. It means 'Rest in Peace,' the acronym commonly being seen on grave stones. Stark's metaphor takes place within the context of academic discourse and specifically within the context of the social scientific study of religion. The two domains employed are therefore the abstract domain of academic discourse on the one hand and the quotidian domain of the death and burial of a person on the other. It is thus implying that Secularisation possesses a gravestone with this upon it and therefore is dead. Naturally, a theory cannot literally be dead but death itself possesses certain implications which render this a relevant metaphor. The aim of Stark's article is to refute the Secularisation Paradigm and we must ask how the metaphor which runs through the article - relates to this. It should be pointed out that we cannot possibly know Stark's personal motivations for producing this metaphor. It may well be that he is trying to be funny or provocative. But as the metaphor runs through the article and is not simply a title and as it has been published in a serious academic journal I think that we have the right to assume he would stand by it.
6.2 In order to assess the richness of the 'death' metaphor it is important to discern what would generally be associated with 'RIP' and death in terms of metaphorical parallels. I would suggest that it implies that the subject is a corpse (and therefore used to be alive so the concept is being anthropomorphized), that was part of a community (which has buried it), that the community is religious or has a belief system and perhaps even that there is a belief that there could be some kind of after-life (hence 'rest' which might seem to imply this). Obviously each tenet out-lined here can be seen to have further associations. One might associate a person dying with, generally, being elderly. If these manifold associations work then we can argue that the metaphor is 'rich' in that sense. Secularisation as a Corpse
6.3 So let us begin by examining the idea that Secularisation has been alive. There was a point at which a dead person was animated, vital and living. Now, however, personified Secularisation is dead. One might associate a number of attributes with this paradigm as we might with a dead person. Davies (1997, Ch. 1) has examined the various factors associated with the dead and with funerals. A dead person would generally be assumed to be elderly at the point of death, though this is, naturally, not always the case. This understanding itself brings further associations with it such as notions of Secularisation being 'out-dated,' 'old-fashioned' and so forth. The dead person has had his time, his life, and it has now ended. In a physical sense, moving beyond Davies, the dead person is no longer of any use or perhaps, like a cadaver in a medical hospital, is useful for teaching purposes only.
6.4 In these respects, I would argue that Stark's metaphor does indeed have depth. Stark's implicit view is that Secularisation, as a theory, is out-dated, old-fashioned and, like a cadaver, useful for teaching but little else. However, this raises the question of precisely what a 'dead theory' is. Presumably, a theory is alive in academic discourse because it makes sense. This certainly appears to be the implication of Stark's discussion. 'Alive' cannot mean that the view currently has some academic advocates. Secularisation certainly does have some advocates but Stark still suggests it is ready for burial. Assuming that we infer from this that it is logical consistency which renders an academic theory 'alive,' then the metaphor appears to work. This, however, might be a criticism of the scope of the metaphor. It only appears to work if the notion of an academic theory being alive is limited to it having, in the judgement of the author, logical rigour. The fact that many academics believe that it has logical rigour does not apparently mean that it is alive. As long as it is subjectively perceived to not have logical rigour then it is dead and Stark would seem to imply that it has therefore been dead for centuries (Stark, 250). Secularisation is dead and the academic community is having difficulty burying it and finally letting go of it.
What is 'Life' and 'Death' in Academia?
6.5 In Stark's context, a dead theory might legitimately be compared to a dead body. Certainly, the theory is portrayed by Stark as being 'old.' He begins by suggesting that the theory has been advocated in various forms for three hundred years citing the advocacy of something which he regards as similar by Voltaire (Stark, 249). Again, assuming we limit our understanding of a theory being dead to the view that it lacks logical rigour, then, at least according to Stark's discussion, Secularisation Theory would indeed seem to lack logical rigour. As such, it is 'useless' to social scientific study because it no longer assists academics in understanding the nature of religion either contemporaneously or historically. In the same way, the idea of 'breaking-down' might be employed in the abstract sphere as well. Stark has 'pulled apart' the Secularisation theory such that it can no longer be perceived to fit together. By seemingly demonstrating the absence of a Golden Age of Faith as well as providing evidence for the sustained presence of contemporary religiosity he has undermined the structure of the Secularisation Theory. The parallel between a cadaver decomposing and Stark's metaphor appears to be a germane one. It might be countered that it is discussed and debated and is alive in that sense. This is a criticism with which I have a certain degree of sympathy. However, a scholar advocating the utility of Stark's metaphor might counter that someone such as Henry VIII is constantly talked about yet he is still believed to be literally dead. In examining this metaphor we are, after all, attempting to compare the metaphorical death of Secularisation with literal death. But the main problem I would have with Stark is his limited definition of what it means for an academic theory to be alive. Is an academic theory alive merely if it is logical? If it is and Secularisation is not logical then presumably it was never alive in the first place.
6.6 A possible solution to this problem might be Ulrich Beck's (2006) notion of 'zombie' theories or categories. Beck argues that there are various theories that are 'living-dead' they are illogical and ethnocentric ('dead') but they are still employed by academics ('living'). Beck argues that this is because many scholars still base their understanding on 'methodological nationalism' taking categories for analysis from the assumption that the world is composed of nations and imposing them on the world. Beck argues that these categories are no longer useful for social sciences because of the fluidity of societies. He instead suggests moving to 'methodological cosmopolitanism' and formulating a new paradigm. Indeed, Possamai (2007, 237) specifically argues that Secularisation is a 'zombie theory' because, in his view, it 'does not work well outside Europe' and therefore reflects 'methodological nationalism.'
The Corpse and Dispassion
6.7 So to have been alive a theory must have been accepted as logical by certain academics at some point, which Secularisation was, otherwise it was never alive. But it still is accepted by certain academics even if only a minority in the field. As such, the 'aliveness' of a theory must relate to some degree of academic democracy. If the majority thinks that it is dead, then it is dead. Stark's implied understanding of 'academic theory life and death' thus appears to me not to be entirely consistent in this particular discussion. Indeed, it is for this reason that I would suggest that the image of Secularisation as a corpse is insufficiently dispassionate and 'goes too far.' Whether or not this is a deliberate ploy on the part of Stark is not for me to say. But it strikes me that if a theory is being advocated by a number of eminent of sociologists it is at the very least melodramatic to imply that it is a 'dead theory.' 'Flat Earth Theory' may well be a 'dead theory', advocated, as it is, by no serious living scientists whatsoever. But to claim that Secularisation is dead appears to be unjustified, at least when employing this interpretation of academic death. Of course, Stark could have dealt with this issue by clearly explaining what he means by academic death and justifying why his own understanding is superior to alternative possibilities. However, he has not done this and this would involve qualifying the metaphor and implicitly demonstrating that it is not especially trenchant. Moreover, the metaphor of 'death' is a very strong one which Stark has put into the public domain in spite of the fact that it is not entirely justified. Therefore, this aspect of the metaphor (and thus, essentially, the entire metaphor) is not entirely successful. Stark has developed his metaphor to attempt to deal with this problem, as will be discussed below.
6.8 The second level of Stark's metaphor is the image of burial. As discussed, Stark's use of 'RIP' would appear to have further metaphorical implications. 'Rest in Peace' on a grave might not necessarily imply that the deceased were Christian or being buried by Christians but it would imply being buried by some kind of community and someone must be there to wish them peaceful eternal rest. Hence, 'RIP' and by implication a gravestone would appear to be indicative of the deceased being a member of the community and being buried by that community. It might further be suggested that death is something which most people would be likely to associate with some kind of religion simply because funerals are often conducted by some kind of religious institution. Indeed, the words 'Rest in Peace' imply that death involves 'eternal rest' an idea taken from Christianity and thus the possibility of resurrection. Perhaps this community can be seen as the community of scholars or sociologists of religion. Also, the metaphor of burial itself is of interest. According to Davies (1997, Ch. 1), burying a person is generally a Rite of Passage. It is the ritual which signifies that their life is over and it is the beginning of a new phase, traditionally, for them but also for the mourners. It is a symbolic 'saying goodbye' to or 'letting go of' the deceased person as he travels to a new social place the land of the dead. Hence Stark, having argued that there was no 'Golden Age of Faith' suggests that Secularisation be laid to rest in the 'graveyard of failed theories' (Stark 1999, 270).
6.9 In many ways, the notion of burial is more useful as a metaphor when examined independently than that of a death. Burial, as we have argued, implies a place in a community and usually a religious community; a community of belief. Secularisation would appear to parallel this quality. The community in which Secularisation 'lived' was the 'community of theories of religion', manifest in the work of particular scholars of religion. The community itself, or at least a number of members of this community including Stark, are now proposing to bury this 'dead theory.' One could even compare scholars of religion to some kind of religious community with shared beliefs and practices. Equally, the implied idea of resurrection is an interesting one. Certainly, there is a case for arguing that an academic theory is, like the Christian notion of a dead person, open to the possibility of some future resurrection should it once again (following Stark's conception) become logical and rational. 'RIP' allows for this possibility and therefore works on this level as well. Of course, this is somewhat undermined by the problems with the broader 'death' metaphor.
Death and Irrational Attachment
6.10 However, Stark develops the burial metaphor further and it is here, I think, that it becomes less than successful. The other aspect of burial which we have suggested is the 'letting go' of a dead person to which one has, perhaps, become attached. This aspect of death is examined in detail in Davies (1997) and also Kόbler-Ross (1969). Stark, at least in his own view, has demonstrated that Secularisation is dead. Yet he is able to cite a number of academics who refuse to accept that it is dead. They refuse to finally 'let go' and allow Secularisation a dignified burial. They would thus appear to demonstrate precisely the attachment to a dead person which a burial attempts to break. It is an illogical attachment, because the theory is dead, and in this regard Stark refers to proponents as 'Prophets of Secularisation' (Stark 1999, 250). This terminology seems to imply a religious and irrational dimension to the Secularisation Theory. Stark cannot simply mean that they 'foretell' Secularisation because all of them believe it is occurring. (And if Stark does mean 'foretell' it is still rather emotive language with religious overtones.) By implication, proponents are illogically and irrationally attached to this particular theory and they are foretelling the death of religion like a prophet might the end of the world. They are, basically, deluded zealots. This might be interpreted as an appeal to ridicule.
6.11 On the positive side, this means that Stark's metaphor is sufficiently rich that it can be developed and taken further, which was one of the sub-criteria of 'richness.' Stark has achieved this himself by moving from 'burial' to examining differences amongst the community that are conducting the funeral. Also, I think this depth means that Stark's metaphor clearly explains an important debate within Secularisation that opponents such as Stark, but also a number of others, think that Secularisation proponents are religiously attached to the concept. However, as the article is not ostensibly an exercise in meta-academic analysis, this raises further difficulties. I do not think that this aspect of the metaphor can be accused of 'passion' as it is a development of the original metaphor which has already been accused of this. Secularisation being 'dead' and the idea of 'burial' reinforces this (if you do not accept Stark's understanding of 'theory death') by painting advocates of Secularisation as deluded. This, in my view, is an unfortunate implication which means that the metaphor does not conform to the second criteria. The metaphor has gone way beyond criticising the arguments of those who oppose Stark. It has moved into realms of a personal attack, implying that those who disagree with him (such as Bruce) are illogical, irrational, semi-religious extremists who allow blind emotion to cloud their judgement. In essence, the implied argument becomes, 'If you don't agree with me then you're irrational.' In terms of 'richness', then, Stark's metaphor is useful. It deals with the difficulty over academic death by implying that those who still advocate the theory are deluded. However, in terms of dispassion there are problems with this metaphor. It is overly emotive in claiming that the theory is dead and only gets round this accusation by personally attacking certain academics, which is not, I would argue, something to be encouraged in academia which should concentrate on ideas.
'Christianity in Britain: RIP'
7.1 This metaphor was used by Bruce in an article which was in response to Stark's and turned Stark's metaphor around. Bruce's article was thus an attempt to refute Stark's view that Secularisation was dead and ready for burial. In essence, Bruce's article claims to refute Stark's view that the Golden Age of Faith was a myth. It does this by arguing that all of Stark's presuppositions - in suggesting that the pre-moderns were not necessarily religious - are 'implausible' (Bruce 2001, 193). It then proceeds to demonstrate that, since 1900 and particularly since the 1960s, the involvement of the British people in institutional church activities, and especially the Church of England, has declined rapidly. It demonstrates, for example, that church attendance has declined across almost all British churches (195). The only ones that are growing are churches attended mainly by black immigrants and their descendants and these are, in any case, very small in comparison to the overall decline (196). Bruce further demonstrates that traditional Christian beliefs are also declining. He admits that there is still a belief in spirituality but not, for the most part, in the traditionally Christian sense (201).
7.2 It might be argued that I am unjustified in even assessing this metaphor precisely because it is merely a response to Stark's. Bruce is basically being witty and using an eye-catching title. I would counter that, in the article in question, Bruce does attempt to follow his metaphor. He returns to it in the middle of the article, referring to and agreeing with Peter Brierley's idea that Christianity in Britain is 'bleeding to death' (195) and at the end of the article he seems to refer to a kind of 'death of a tribe,' arguing that by 2030 the church will be below the 'critical mass' required to reproduce itself (201). This, indeed, might invoke the idea of a family grave for Christianity which will soon be full. As such 'Rest in Peace' could be used to infer that Christianity in Britain is very close to death and will die soon, but is just not quite dead yet. This, in essence, is Bruce's argument. As such, I think that Bruce would defend this metaphor (as he has also used similar metaphors in a number of other articles such as 'Twilight of the Gods') and, thus, I intend to assess it following the criteria that I have out-lined.
7.3 In this instance, the two domains are the physical burial and implied death compared to the abstract notion of the decline of 'Christianity' in Britain. Assuming that Bruce is referring to 'institutional Christianity' then he does demonstrate a rapid decline which implies that, at some point, institutional Christianity will simply cease: it will 'die.' Of course, he is not arguing that it is dead and we can perhaps stretch the metaphor far enough to interpret it as claiming that institutionalised Christianity in Britain will die, possibly quite soon. The idea of burial, following this presupposition, can also be seen to work. If people no longer live as Christians or believe Christian doctrine then presumably the community that is Britain has or will soon symbolically 'say goodbye' to institutional Christianity. As with Stark's model, the possibility that Christianity might make the occasional come back is allowed for with the underlying theology of 'RIP.' Thus, as with Stark, Bruce presents us with a metaphor that works on many levels. Moreover, it can be developed in a variety of directions. One might examine the congregation that will ultimately bury Christianity and argue that there are some that do not accept that it is going to die. Equally, the metaphor could be taken further by examining the rise, in Britain, of evangelical and Charismatic Christianity. It could be argued that this is Christianity refusing to accept that it is going die or, perhaps realising that it will die and, following Welsh poet Dylan Thomas' summary of how one should die epitomises the lines:
'Do not go gentle into that good night.Evangelicals are perhaps achieving this by attempting to be 'more Christian' than ever before. Assuming that 'Christianity' means 'institutional Christianity' then Bruce's metaphor does seem to contribute by making clear Bruce's view of Secularisation that Christianity will decline until it dies. However, Bruce's metaphor is not free from difficulties.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.'
7.4 Bruce's metaphor, like Stark's, is somewhat overly emotive. It raises the question of what we mean by 'Christianity'? Bruce's discussion does not demonstrate the decline of Christianity in Britain. It demonstrates the seemingly unstoppable decline of institutional involvement in Christianity and it demonstrates this very clearly. But, of course, the fact that people do not attend Church does not mean that they do not hold Christian religious beliefs. In Bruce's defence, however, he does further demonstrate a decline in the numbers of people accepting traditionally Christian beliefs. The question that the metaphor raises is one of scope. What does it mean for Christianity in Britain to be dead or close to death? Bruce appears to see the life or death of Christianity in terms of a compilation of statistics. It relates to the 'number' of people going to Church or the 'number' of people holding traditionally Christian beliefs. We might suggest that a small group of extremely active Christians perhaps conservative Christians who heavily engage themselves in politics could be seen to render Christianity very much 'alive.' Bruce simply does not demonstrate that Christianity is 'dead' even in a democratic sense. But he demonstrates that Christianity is declining in terms both of Christian belief and church involvement. He equally demonstrates that some British people are attending church and that they believe in traditional Christian doctrines. It might be argued that, in the context of his implicitly limited definition of metaphorical life and death, Bruce demonstrates that the Christianity is 'dying.' This is a moot point. To be understood to be 'dying' it must be a fact that you are in a process which will rapidly lead to death. Bruce simply does not demonstrate that this is the case. But I would counter that, pursuing the death metaphor, no doctor can demonstrate with one hundred percent certainty that a person is actually dying and Bruce is in a similar situation. He can only demonstrate that, if circumstances do not radically change, then death is extremely likely. I am not even sure that Bruce demonstrates this. His own statistics indicate a rise in Christianity after World War II and that immigration to the UK is leading to a rise in certain forms of Christianity. He refers to this elsewhere as 'humps and bumps' in an overall decline (Bruce 2002, 44). But surely it indicates the possibility that Christianity, though perhaps unwell, could get better. To insist otherwise is, in a sense, a form of faith. In Bruce's defence, however, it might be suggested, following Sandall (2001) that the rise in Christian practice after World War II reflected a kind of halt and reversal in the modernisation process brought about by war. Sandall argues that in times of war, a 'neo-tribe' is often fostered and rational development is suppressed in favour of an emphasis on the community. As Bruce finds that Secularisation is strongly linked with modernisation this might then follow logically.
Bruce's Metaphor and Secularisation Theory
7.5 However, Bruce is attempting to defend the Secularisation theory and, in this regard, the metaphor is also problematic. Bruce's metaphor oversimplifies the Secularisation Theory that he wishes to advocate. Firstly, if Christianity can 'die,' as is implied by the metaphor, then Secularisation must have an 'end-point,' as Stark has argued, whereby, eventually, Christianity will have no influence in Britain at all. Bruce is at pains elsewhere ( 2002, 1) to argue that this is a shoddy misinterpretation of the theory. However, precisely this misinterpretation is implied by using this metaphor as the title for the article and developing it within the article as in 'bleeding to death.' As such, I think that 'Christianity in Britain: RIP' is an overly-emotive metaphor. This is because it could potentially lead to a misunderstanding, in Bruce's own terms, of precisely what Secularisation is. However, if Bruce implies that Christianity (both in terms of belief and practice) is in terminal decline and if that is what Bruce is arguing (which it is not, what he is arguing is far subtler and more complex) then the metaphor and its extensions are not overly emotive. Moreover, in Bruce's defence, his metaphor does not involve fallacies such as appeal to ridicule. Bruce's metaphor is simply a summary (although not an entirely successful one) of his position. He does not develop it to attack Stark on a personal level. So overall, following the criteria outlined, I would suggest that Bruce's metaphor is slightly more successful than Stark's.
The Death of Christian Britain8.1 Callum Brown summarises the findings of various surveys in relation to the decline in church participation in Britain and various other factors as 'The Death of Christian Britain.' He demonstrates the extent to which this decline has occurred, particularly in the last century. This is a developed metaphor which is referred to in a number of places in Brown's work. In various places he writes of 'the demise of Christian religion' as a force in the UK, the 'terminal decay' of Christian Britain and the 'death throes' of Christian Britain. In terms of richness, I think that Brown's metaphor works on a number of levels. The 'death of Christian Britain' could imply either that it is dead or that it is dying. We have already examined the various associations with death and I think that these can be applied here. The 'body,' as it were, of 'Christian Britain' stops working, hence the decline in Christian participation and Christian belief in the UK. Equally, the idea of 'Christian Britain' is shown, by Brown, to be elderly. Britain was institutionally Christian for a very long time. The notion of it is, as it were, 'elderly' and 'from the past' and Brown demonstrates the extent to which 'Christian Britain' is no longer apparently the case. It could be argued that psychological difficulties might be associated with a slow death. It might be argued that the rise of fundamentalism amongst British Christians in recent years could be seen as example of this. I do not necessarily claim to agree with this but the metaphor is sufficiently rich that it could be developed in this direction. Being helpless might also be associated with somebody who is terminally ill. Again, it could be argued that 'Christian Britain' can do nothing but sit and watch as alternative belief-systems supersede it.
8.2 Equally, it is clear that Brown's metaphor can be developed by future scholars. One might examine, at some point, the 'funeral of Christian Britain.' This, itself, could be taken further in terms people attempting to contact the dead and so forth and future revival in Christianity could be seen in these terms. As such, I think that Brown's metaphor is successful in terms of the richness criterion. Moreover, it does accurately summarise Brown's view that Britain as a Christian country is dying it is rapidly declining to the point of no return. In this sense, Brown creates a clear and not inaccurate mental image of his broader argument which is a clear contribution the understanding of the subject.
8.3 Brown does not assert that Christian Britain is dead. He refers to 'The Death . . .' This allows for the possibility that 'Christian Britain' could either be in the process of dying or that this has occurred. 'Christian Britain' could be understood to mean Christians in Britain and Brown demonstrates that their numbers appear to be declining though, like Bruce, he does not indicate that this is irreversible. But it could also be understood to refer to the institutionally Christian nature of Britain. If interpreted in this way, then Brown does indeed appear to be successful in demonstrating that the extent to which Britain is Christian at an institutional level has declined rapidly even since the 1960s. He cites the revoking of laws related to the Bible on issues such as homosexuality, for example, as evidence of this (Brown 2001, 190).
8.4 Of course, one can criticise Brown because he does not demonstrate that the institutional decline is irreversible. But, as I have said, this is impossible to ever totally demonstrate. Hence, as with Bruce, it might be suggested that Brown's metaphor is an emotive one which goes beyond what the evidence allows him to say. Indeed, Kerrohan (2002) has summarised this by claiming that Brown 'seems too anxious to move from the sickbed to the funeral.' It might be claimed, in Brown's defence, that he only goes beyond the evidence in the same way that a doctor might by telling an apparently dying person that they are dying. But my comparison is to the language of the quotidian rather than to another example of a precise analogy employed in science or in the social sciences. Thus, Brown can be said to slightly oversimplify Secularisation. However, in his defence, any scientific metaphor is likely, by its very nature, to slightly oversimplify that which it explains. Brown's metaphor is not really overly emotive or, if it is, it is only very slightly so. Bruce's metaphor of 'Christianity in Britain: RIP' goes somewhat further because it cannot simply be interpreted as referring only to institutional Christianity or the power of institutional Christianity in Britain. In this sense, Brown's metaphor is subtler because it can be interpreted in this way and the book leads one in that direction. Moreover, Brown's use of the term 'death throes' as a means of understanding revivals in Christianity successfully fits what might be seen as evidence that contradicts him into his broader metaphor, again demonstrating that his metaphor can be built upon. There is nothing fallacious in this metaphor as far as I can see.
Conclusion9.1 The Death Metaphor has been employed, in many current discussions of the Secularisation Theory, by both its proponents and its critics. It has been used as a means of describing the nature of Secularisation, often in a specific context, such as by Bruce. The aim of this article was to examine its successfulness in this debate and more broadly to develop and demonstrate criteria for producing a successful academic metaphor. It examined the nature of metaphor and its use in theory building in the sciences. Following this, the article proposed two criteria for a successful academic metaphor. In doing so, it developed and brought out previous contributions in this area, drawing upon certain uncontroversial assumptions about the academic goal: (1) Richness (that is multi-layered and can be developed) (2) Dispassionateness (that the metaphor is not overly emotive, does not 'go too far' or commit fallacies). Thereafter it examined the Secularisation debate before turning to the death metaphors of Stark, Bruce and Brown.
9.2 Perhaps the most successful metaphor was that employed by Callum Brown. The metaphor was rich, working on a number of levels, and allowed for the possibility of future development. It was not particularly overly-emotive because it very specifically referred to 'Christian Britain' rather than 'Christianity in Britain' or 'Christianity.' The book's argument was subtle and the metaphor reflected this. Moreover, its only aim was to pithily sum up the theory under discussion. It did not, through implication, attack academic opponents. Brown's death metaphor makes a serious contribution to our sociological understanding of Secularisation. Bruce's 'Christianity in Britain: RIP' metaphor was slightly less successful. It was rich, certainly, and could be developed. However, in claiming that Christianity in the UK was dying and implying that the funeral should be prepared, it went further than the evidence allowed and was therefore insufficiently dispassionate. Stark's 'Secularisation: RIP' was even more problematic. Again, it was an excellent literary metaphor, working on many levels. Equally, it was possible to develop it which Stark did but this sub-metaphor was problematic because it essentially implied that Stark's opponents were irrational religious zealots, metaphorically speaking. Moreover, the metaphor was too emotive, implying that Secularisation Theory was dead when, unless ones opponents are cast as irrationally overcome by grief and in denial, it is not dead. This was, therefore, the least successful metaphor.
9.3 Metaphors can be very useful for scholars of religion and sociologists. They can make ideas easier to understand and can help to stimulate further thought. But it is important if our aim is that other academics and the general public gain a better understanding of ideas (which I have argued is a significant aim) - that our metaphors conform to certain criteria. In suggesting what these might be, I intend to open a discussion as well as having argued my own case. However, richness and dispassion appear the most salient. The element of the Secularisation Debate that I have covered demonstrates the importance of these metaphors. Bruce in particular has complained (Bruce, 2002, Ch. 1) about the way that Secularisation is misinterpreted by both the media, undergraduates and other academics. This should only encourage him, perhaps developing Callum Brown, to produce an even better Secularisation metaphor, one which is rich and dispassionate.
Notes1See also Slingerland (2004), Iannoccone (1991), Drane (2000) or Ritzer (1994) for examples of developed academic metaphors in Sociology or Religious Studies.
3Equally, one could follow this by arguing that academic language itself must be quite reserved because if it is too emotional then an article could persuade unjustifiably. This is an interesting point which I would like to see further explored elsewhere. Indeed, it also raises questions about the usefulness of a viva voce in so much as the candidate's ability in rhetoric and even physical appearance as well as logical argument could play an albeit unconscious part in possibly swaying the examiners.
4Gray (2007) argues that progress-oriented theories, such as Modernisation and even Marxism, all reflect the 'Western, Christian' belief in progress towards a kind of a utopia rather than the Eastern belief in cycles and he suggests that 'Western' scientific thought is within this 'utopian' discourse. As we will see below, it might be argued that this assumption is very prominent in Secularisation theory.
5Of course I appreciate that there are other areas of religious discussion that involve death metaphors such as conversion experience. But I have chosen this narrow focus so that we can go into considerable and because of the obvious salience of such metaphors to the Secularisation Debate.
8This definition might be questioned from a functionalist perspective, of course, but this is the view Bruce takes.
10I suspect this is true of the title of Bruce's (2002) book on Secularisation God is Dead: Secularization in the West. Not only does this title go beyond what the book is arguing but it seems a rather peculiar out of context quote when one considers that the philosopher F. W. Nietzsche, who coined the term, put the words 'God is dead' in the mouth of 'the madman,' though Nietzsche seems to imply that it is only the madman who really understands: 'Have you not heard of the madman who lit a lantern in broad daylight, ran to the marketplace and kept crying out, 'Where's God! Where's God!' . . . 'Where has God gone?' the madman cried. 'I will tell you . . . God is dead!' (quoted in Hayman 1997, 3).
11This poem is very well known in the UK and is perceived to pithily summarise a certain reaction to death. Armstrong (2001, ix) observes that 'fundamentalists' are 'under siege' from change and react by constructing a 'fortress' religion.
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