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Exercises in integrating sociology and theology

09 January 2015


From the Revd Professor David Martin

Sir, - Responding to a friendly review by Canon Michael Bourdeaux of my Religion and Power (Books, 2 January) seems ungrateful, but my book is very specifically not sociology for sociologists, who won't read it anyway. It integrates sociology and theology, treated as related subjects within the humanities, and it sets religion and politics in a unified conceptual frame, rejecting the notion that religion is irrational while politics is rational, in order to establish a mythic structure undergirding both.

It does not criticise the New Atheists because they "debunk" religion, but because their identification of religion with violence resolutely refuses to understand a very complex issue from a social-scientific viewpoint. I sometimes suspect that theologians are complicit in this refusal because it requires a major revision of theological practice and assumptions.

As for Canon Bourdeaux's complaint that the displacement of large amateur choirs by small professional ones occurred a decade later than the 1960s, and his citation of the Philharmonia Choir as counter-evidence, that whole shift goes back to the 1890s, gaining its initial momentum in the mid-20th century. The astonishing change in Handel's reception reflects the change. In any case, the Philharmonia Choir is a large body bolstered by professionals and students. The Monteverdi Choir dates from 1964. The Schütz Choir dates from 1962: that is the decade when I first heard it.

Cripplegate Cottage, 174 St John's Road, Woking, Surrey GU21 7PQ

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