This article argues that if Kenneth Howard’s prediction of a “religion singularity” is true, it should not be a worry for social scientists, who must remain neutral on religious matters. Further, the deinstitutionalization, fragmentation, atomization, and even extinction of religion should come as no surprise to scholars who have observed these processes repeatedly. This process occurs not only in the realm of religion but in all social domains, from family and marriage to government—and indeed not only in social domains but in the natural world, as well. Contemporary forces of mediatization and neoliberalism are only the latest threats to institutional membership, creating a crisis among established authorities and encouraging “irregular” religion just as much as they encourage “irregular” employment. While the “religious economy” model suggests an adaptation of religion to the tastes and preferences of today’s religious consumer, ethnographic evidence illustrates the difference between religious institutions and religiosity, the rise of multiple small religious movements, and the struggle for survival between sects, denominations, and churches. Ultimately it may be the case that the institutional phase of Christianity was only one moment in its religious evolution, which evolved from small, local, independent congregations and may return to—or end in—that form.
Is the Disintegration of Christianity a Problem—or Even a Surprise?
Jack David Eller