Secularisation, Pentecostalism and Violence by David Martin

by
18 May 2018

Duncan Dormor on the challenge of ploughing a different furrow

MY FIRST encounter with David Martin’s work was borne of stubbornness. Given the choice of what sociology essay to write next, I chose, to the despair of my lecturer, secularisation rather than Marxism — despair, since he was of the clear view that secularisation was a very dull subject and that the decline of religion was utterly predictable, whereas Marxism. . .

The year was 1988: nearly a decade after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and just over a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Socialist empire. Neither monumental change was predicted by the enlightened guild of sociologists. At the same time, largely unrecognised and misunderstood, the spectacular growth of Pentecostal Christianity in Latin America, and elsewhere, was in full bloom.

This latest volume covers many of the themes that Martin has dedicated his life to exploring: secularisation, the relationship between religion and violence, and Pentecostalism. It is, however, aimed at the scholar rather than the general reader — for whom I can strongly recommend recent publications such as Ruin and Restoration (2016) or Religion and Power (2014).

Here, these important subjects are considered for the most part within a “sociology of sociology”. That is, Martin draws on his own experience to consider how ideas are received, ignored, or rejected as a consequence of pre-existing cultural assumptions, the “inner workings, jostlings and power-plays of academic research”, geography, or simply the scholar’s native tongue.

This book divides into three unequal parts. Six chapters on the “travels and travails” of the concept of secularisation are followed by two chapters each on “ancillary debates” and “examples”. It functions like a sort of extended marginalia, to accompany Martin’s substantive contributions, in which he recollects the near-mandatory road signs of his discipline, the wrong turns and meanderings, and those fellow travellers whose work seems to have been underestimated (e.g. Werner Stark, William Pickering, and Christie Davies).

Inevitably, the central focus is secularisation, but there is also an excellent account of the way in which Martin’s research into the rise of Pentecostalism was received (and fiercely resisted) by fellow academics.

As ever, the breadth of reference is staggering, and the peripheral vision (history, philosophy, anthropology) is clear-sighted; and yet there remains space for highly pertinent discussion, for example, of the development of Islamic State.

For the aspiring sociologist of religion, this book is essential reading. Indeed, many young academics across the humanities would clearly benefit from the long view encapsulated here.

The Revd Duncan Dormor is Chief Executive of USPG.

Secularisation, Pentecostalism and Violence: Receptions, rediscoveries and rebuttals in the sociology of religion
David Martin
Routledge £120
(978-0-415-78859-5)
Church Times Bookshop £108

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