Postmodern religion

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Postmodern religion[1][2] is any type of religion that is influenced by postmodernism and postmodern philosophies.[3][4] Examples of religions that may be interpreted using postmodern philosophy include Postmodern Christianity,[5] Postmodern Neopaganism,[citation needed] and Postmodern Buddhism.[6] Postmodern religion is not an attempt to banish religion from the public sphere; rather, it is a philosophical approach to religion that critically considers orthodox assumptions (that may reflect power differences in society rather than universal truths).[7] Postmodern religious systems of thought view realities as plural, subjective, and dependent on the individual's worldview. Postmodern interpretations of religion acknowledge and value a multiplicity of diverse interpretations of truth, being, and ways of seeing. There is a rejection of sharp distinctions and global or dominant metanarratives in postmodern religion, and this reflects one of the core principles[8] of postmodern philosophy. A postmodern interpretation of religion emphasises the key point that religious truth is highly individualistic, subjective, and resides within the individual.[9]

Eclecticism and non-dogmatic theology[edit]

According to postmodern philosophy, society is in a state of constant change. There is no absolute version of reality, no absolute truths. Postmodern religion strengthens the perspective of the individual and weakens the strength of institutions and religions that deal with objective realities. Postmodern religion considers that there are no universal religious truths or laws, rather, reality is shaped by social, historical and cultural contexts according to the individual, place and or time. Individuals may seek to draw eclectically on diverse religious beliefs, practices and rituals in order to incorporate these into their own religious world view.

In Japan, Shinto and Buddhist ideas are woven together and co-exist. Some people who practice Buddhism may be syncretic in their approach. Syncretism occurs among the Eastern religions.[10] Similarly, versions of Hinduism[11] and Neopaganism[12] may also be interpreted from a postmodern perspective. A postmodern religion can be non-dogmatic, syncretic, and eclectic: in drawing from various faiths and traditions, it challenges the notion of absolute truths.

Historical bias[edit]

History may be written by powerful groups in society, who may marginalise, silence or misrepresent other, less powerful or oppressed groups. As Winston Churchill famously remarked, "History is written by the victors."[13]

A postmodern interpretation of religion emphasises the importance of questioning and considering historical bias when studying religion from a historical perspective. For example, doctoral studies in religion at Harvard emphasise studying religion using wider contexts of history and comparative studies. It is these "wider contexts" that makes religion a valid subject of postmodern contemplation.[14] Studies of religion are often approached from a historical perspective. A postmodern interpretation of a religion acknowledges that history can be represented in an inherently biased way, reinforcing the mainstream ideologies of those in power.

Versions of truth[edit]

Postmodern religion acknowledges and accepts different versions of truth. For example, rituals, beliefs and practices can be invented, transformed, created and reworked based on constantly shifting and changing realities, individual preferences, myths, legends, archetypes, rituals and cultural values and beliefs. Individuals who interpret religion using postmodern philosophy may draw from the histories of various cultures to inform their religious beliefs - they may question, reclaim, challenge and critique representations of religion in history based on the theories of postmodernism, which acknowledge that realities are diverse, subjective and depend on the individual's interests and interpretations.[15]

Appeal to marginalized groups[edit]

Members of groups in society who face discrimination or who are marginalized, such as women, the gay community or other ethnic minority groups, may be drawn to postmodern religious thinking. For example, the interpretation of Christianity from a postmodern perspective offers the potential for groups in society, such as the Gay community or women, the ability to connect with a version of reality or truth that does not exclude or marginalize them. A postmodern interpretation of religion may focus on considering a religion without orthodox assumptions (that may reflect power differences in society rather than universal truths).[7] In Semitic Neopaganism, a postmodern approach to this tradition of Neopaganism involves challenging or reclaiming mainstream versions of reality and truth that may be more inclusive of women.[16] Minority groups and the socially or economically disadvantaged may be drawn to follow a postmodern approach to religion, because of the way that postmodern philosophy empowers the individual and provides an "emancipatory framework"[17] with which to challenge mainstream ideologies or dominant power structures.

Postmodern interpretations of religion[edit]


Interpreting Christianity using theories of postmodernism usually involves finding the balance between acknowledging pluralism, a plurality of views and historical influence on doctrine and avoiding the extremes of postmodernism. John Riggs proposes that postmodernism and Christianity have much to offer each other. He asserts that Christians who have adopted elements of postmodern thinking still need to acknowledge that some notions of reality need to be fixed and real in order to have "meaningful claims about vital topics such as ethics and God".[18] An example of a specific religious movement that uses postmodern thinking is the Emerging Church.


Neopaganism can be interpreted from a postmodern perspective.[12] Postmodern religion can be non-dogmatic, syncretic, eclectic, and draw from various faiths and traditions and challenges the notion of absolute truths. Wicca, the largest tradition of Neopaganism, can be interpreted using postmodern philosophies.[19] Postmodern interpretations of Wicca often lead to the practitioner adopting a more eclectic approach, because the very nature of postmodern theory involves the acceptance of many versions of truth and reality.[citation needed]

Eclectic Wicca is the most widely adapted form of Wicca in America today[20] and the core philosophies of postmodern thinking are often[21][22][23] used in order to form an interpretation of Wicca that is highly individual and characterized by the subjective questioning of reality and truth. This version of Wicca may draw eclectically from, adapt, challenge and adopt a wider range of religious beliefs and perspectives, such as Buddhism, Shintoism, Druidism and Hinduism and Wicca and Goddess movements such as Dianic Wicca, Celtic Wicca and Semitic Neopaganism.[24]

Postmodern interpretations of Wicca tend to be context driven, egalitarian, immanent and experiential.[25] Academic texts often represent Wicca in literature and research as a specific tradition that is underpinned by discourses of modernism.[26]

Postmodern spirituality[edit]

Postmodern spirituality refers to new forms of spirituality in the contexts of postmodern societies in a globalised world. Former universalistic worldviews of modernity become contested, old explanations and certainties questioned.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Powell, Jim (1998). Postmodernism For Beginners. Danbury, CT: For Beginners LLC. ISBN 9781939994196. OCLC 993610879. Retrieved June 21, 2021.
  2. ^ Ray, Abruzzi; McGandy, Michael J. (2003). "Postmodernism". eNotes. Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. Archived from the original on July 31, 2012. Retrieved December 27, 2010.
  3. ^ Patton, K.; Ray, B. (2008). A Magic Still Dwells: Comparative Religion in the Postmodern Age. University of California Press, Berkeley - "a postmodern study of religion" p199
  4. ^ French, Rebecca Redwood (Spring 1999). "From Yoder to Yoda: Models of Traditional, Modern, and Postmodern Religion in U.S. Constitutional Law". Arizona Law Review. 41:49. (abstract). Based on an analysis of the actual language used by the Supreme Court to characterize religion, this Article argues that the Court takes a common-sensical approach to each religion brought before it
  5. ^ Oxford University Press - Journals - Aaron Stuvland
  6. ^ On Deconstructing Life-Worlds: Buddhism, Christianity, Culture (Atlanta: Scholars Press of American Academy of Religion, 1997; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000; ISBN 0-7885-0295-6, cloth, ISBN 0-7885-0296-4, pbk
  7. ^ a b Clarke, Peter (2009). The Oxford Handbook of the sociology of religion. Oxford University Press. Page 306.
  8. ^ Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology. Trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (First published New York: Basic Books, 1963; New York: Anchor Books Ed., 1967), 324.
  9. ^ Eve, Raymond. "Wiccans vs. Creationists: An Empirical Study of How Two Systems of Belief Differ". The University of Texas. [1]
  10. ^ BBC Religions: Postmodernism
  11. ^ Hatcher, B. (1999). Eclecticism and Modern Hindu Discourse. Oxford University Press USA.
  12. ^ a b Lewis, James (1996). Magic religion and Modern Witchcraft. New York University Press. Page 46: "While pre-modern themes form the foundation for this movement it is the manner that such themes are reworked to be appropriate in the contemporary context that form the greatest relevance to the significance of Witchcraft as a postmodern form of spirituality".
  13. ^ World War 2 in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, with general sources By Loyd E. Lee, Robin D. S. Higham - Page 29.
  14. ^ Patton, K.; Ray, B. (2008). A Magic Still Dwells: Comparative Religion in the Postmodern Age, p. 132. University of California Press, Berkeley
  15. ^ Heelas, Paul (1998) Religion, modernity, and postmodernity - page 4 and 5
  16. ^ Raphael, Melissa (April 1998). "Goddess Religion, Postmodern Jewish Feminism, and the Complexity of Alternative Religious Identities", ‌Nova Religion, Vol. 1, No. 2, Pages 198–215 (abstract can be found on [2] Archived 2012-01-04 at the Wayback Machine
    "This paper argues that Jewish Goddess feminism illustrates the complexity of alternative religious identities and their fluid, ambiguous, and sometimes intimate historical, cultural, and religious connections to mainstream religious identities. While Jewish Goddess feminists find contemporary Judaism theologically and politically problematic, thealogy (feminist discourse on the Goddess and the divinity of femaleness) can offer them precisely the sacralization of female generativity that mainstream Judaism cannot".
  17. ^ Patricia M. Mcdonough, Peter Mclaren (1996). "Postmodern Studies of Gay and Lesbian Lives in Academia", Harvard Educational Review, Summer 1996 Issue
  18. ^ Riggs, J. (2003). Postmodern Christianity: Doing Theology in the Contemporary World, pp. ix-x. Trinity Press International. ISBN 978-1-56338-364-9
  19. ^ Lewis, James (1996). Magic religion and Modern Witchcraft. New York University Press. Page 46, "... While premodern themes form the foundation for this movement it is the manner that such themes are reworked to be appropriate in the contemporary context that form the greatest relevance to the significance of Witchcraft as a postmodern form of spirituality".
  20. ^ Smith, Diane. Wicca and Witchcraft for Dummies
  21. ^ Patridge, Christopher. "Alternative Spiritualities, New Religions, and the Reenchantment of the West", in James Lewis (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements (2004)
  22. ^ Anderson, Walter Truett. "Four Ways to Be Absolutely Right", in Anderson (ed.), The Truth About the Truth: De-confusing and Re-constructing the Postmodern World (1995)
  23. ^ Fisher, Amber. Journal of Western Mystery Tradition, Vol. 1
  24. ^ Raphael, Melissa (April 1998). "Goddess Religion, Postmodern Jewish Feminism, and the Complexity of Alternative Religious Identities", ‌Nova Religion, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 198–215
  25. ^ Werner, Michael. "Ecofeminism, Neopaganism, and the Gaia Movement in the Postmodern Age", Humanism Today, vol. 7 (1992)
  26. ^ Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard. “Witches of the West: Neopaganism and Goddess Worship as Enlightenment Religions”, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, vol. 5, no. 1 (1989)

Further reading[edit]

  • Ahlbäck, Tore (ed.) (2009): Postmodern spirituality. (based on papers read at the Symposium on Postmodern Spirituality, held at Åbo, Finland, on 11–13 June 2008)
  • Benedikter, Roland (2006): Postmodern spirituality. A dialogue in five parts - Part V: Can Only A God Save Us? Postmodern Proto-Spirituality And The Current Global Turn To Religion. (online)
  • Griffin, David Ray (1988): Spirituality and society : postmodern visions. Albany.
  • Griffin, David Ray (1989): God and religion in the postmodern world: essays in postmodern theology. New York
  • Dunn, Patrick (2005): Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age. St. Paul
  • King, Ursula (1998): "Spirituality in a postmodern age: faith and praxis in new contexts". In: King, Ursula (ed.) (1998): Faith and Praxis in a Postmodern Age. London.
  • Muldoon, Tim (2005): Postmodern spirituality and the Ignatian Fundamentum. (short review)(full text)
  • Hart, Kevin (ed.) (2005): The experience of God. A postmodern response. New York.