In the British weekly The Observer, Peter Stanford reviews Is God Still an Englishman?, the latest from Cole Moreton. According to Stanford, the book is a story of the “privatization of faith.” He writes:
The tension between believing and belonging provides the structure for Cole Moreton’s lyrical, almost elegiac taking of the nation’s spiritual temperature. I say almost elegiac because, having charted the decline of organised Christianity and the loss of the deference traditionally shown to the Church of England and the monarch as its head, Moreton then manages, in his final chapters, to find signs of resurrection. That is the meaning of the cheesy bit in parentheses at the end of the subtitle. We have, he concludes, found “new soul” in a mishmash of multiculturalism, spiritual relativism, environmentalism and collective despair at the sheer hollowness of life, suffering and death when stripped of any contemplative, transcendent urge.
The arc of Moreton’s story of Christianity in England is clear. While organized, institutional religion is clearly on the decline, the search for a transcendent experience nevertheless persists. For those who study religion closely, this narrative is quite familiar. Scholars such as Wade Clark Roof and Robert Wuthnow have been using what is called the “lived religion” or “spiritual quest” framework in their studies for over a decade. Thomas Luckmann argued similarly in his widely read article “Shrinking Transcendence, Expanding Religion?” (sub. req.). This “privatization” argument is usually couched within a rather linear and tidy conception of the processes of secularization and modernization.
As Stanford notes, however, whether Moreton views the trend of Brits seeking transcendent experiences outside of institutional religions as also applying to non-Christians, especially among the significant number of South Asian and Muslim British, is never made clear:
…despite his his enthusiasm for multiculturalism, Moreton never really grapples with the transplanting of Allah, Buddha and the Hindu deities to Britain.
This raises a broader question about the lived religion/quest culture framework that makes up a considerable portion of Anglo-American religious studies: is it Christianity-centric?
Read Stanford’s full review here.