Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

All religions appear and develop in some specific geohistorical context. Contingent historico-environmental factors may encourage this development in certain areas and hinder it in other. Even in the same area over time, conditions may ripen to favor or inhibit the growth of a religious confession. Therefore, localization of religious beliefs, attitudes, and behavior has a decisive weight regarding the inception and continuation of every religious form or its burgeoning from "nothing."

Sacred Places

It is significant that particular geographic sites are defined and identified as sacred. They function as spaces for the celebration of ritual, becoming a reference point of convergence and presence to create around themselves urban centers of practical significance. This is the story, for example, of Jerusalem, growing upon Mt. Oria, where Abraham is supposed to have been about to sacrifice Isaac—an event recalled by Solomon with the building of the Temple (2 Chron. 3:1). Madinat an nabawi , the prophet's city, became the most beloved place for Muslims because in that complex of villages known as Yathrib, the Prophet Mohammed took refuge on July 16, 622, the day of the beginning of the Muslim era. Another example is provided by the foundation of the Shinto sanctuary of Ise, of considerable religious importance in the national religious culture of Japan, located at the spot where the goddess Amaterasu landed on Earth.

The link between religion and locality was quite clear to Émile Durkheim in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912), where he stressed that the totem is not connected to persons or groups of persons that are well defined but instead to places. Each totem is therefore placed in a precise environment where it is believed that the souls of the forefathers constituting the totemic group at its formation were installed. The churinga are also kept in the same place; these are pieces of wood or fragments of stone worked into an oval or elongated form, bearing a carving that represents the group totem. The churinga are placed in a secret spot that also becomes sacred, radiating its sacredness all around. This is a real sanctuary, where the cult is celebrated. The same geographic distribution of the totems defines clan membership. On the other hand, the festival of the Intichiuma is typical for each totemic group. If the general characteristics are the same, there is nonetheless some aspect that varies. In each tribe too there are ritual differences between the various clans. A detail insignificant in one context becomes basic for another: The Aruntas's Intichiuma is not that of the Warramungas. One might be able to apply here as elsewhere the expression cuius regio, eius religio to mark out the localistic dimensions of religious forms.

As sacred places exercise remarkable influence on the human and social environment that surrounds them, so specific religious confessions have an increased ability to condition and control in their areas of influence. In other words, it is not easy to postulate that around the centers of the most important cults, other religious practices different from the dominant one might thrive, or that new beliefs might easily take off where a long-practiced religious faith of widespread character has been observed (see Kniss 1989).

Exceptions are certainly not rare, but at times one is allowed to identify the ongoing variables that permit multiple religious presences in an area already broadly infused with a specific religious culture. Indeed, it is not surprising that, with the independent variable of the phenomenon of emigration from countries of the Muslim faith, Islam should have become from the nineteenth century onward the second religion by numbers of adherents in Rome, the capital of world Catholicism, where for a long time other religions, both formal and otherwise, also have been at work.

A rigid ecological determinism does not thus let us fully grasp certain facets of complex modern societies. This is so in the presumed relation between the success of cults where Christianity is weak and the success of sects where Christianity is sound (Stark and Bainbridge 1985). Yet it also may occur that sects, especially if they are revolutionist rather than conversionist, are able to break through where one would expect a good result for cults. Thus there seems no break between revolutionist sects and cults. Furthermore, "not all sects will be negatively correlated with cults and regions high in no religious affiliation" (Nock 1989:245). The same distinction between cults and sects must be set alongside the characteristics of the societies to which it is proposed to be applied, if the cult-sect distinction holds here at all.

Urban and Rural Contexts

Another commonplace idea that deserves refutation concerns the differences between city and countryside. Usually it is believed that the rural environment is more attached to orthodox kinds of behavior regarding institutional religions, generally providing high rates of religious observance, whereas a dynamic of secularization is presumed to attack the habits of urban subjects to a greater degree. It is no accident that in the 1960s, there was a long discussion of the end of the sacred and of the secular city (e.g., Cox 1965). At one stage, it was remarked that there was a recovery of the sacred—its reawakening or, more correctly, its persistence. In fact, many recent studies have set in crisis the once-accepted reading of raging secularization. Meanwhile, one notices that in several cases, religiosity lodges better in the city than the countryside. It is in a rural setting that the impact of the global village of information and television entertainments finds little resistance and easily wins out over weak affiliations and traditional kinds of belief held with little awareness (see Francis 1985; Finke and Stark 1992).

In fact, this discussion cannot be generalized, especially if one considers that the city is not a homogeneous conglomerate either in terms of social classes or in sociocultural terms. It manifests stratifications that make its periphery markedly similar to many rural situations. Nor is it necessarily true that big cities are less religiously inclined than the small ones; it is not the territorial dimensions, the number of inhabitants, or the importance of the urban center that determine a lesser concern with the religious factor. Much depends on the development of the cities; to the extent to which this rhythm is orderly, gradual, and controlled, it allows an efficient integration and adaptation without too many upheavals regarding a possibly peasant past, with a consequent tendency to continuity on the religious plane also. Precarious employment, difficulties in making ends meet, and social marginality all increase uneasiness and leave little room for attendance at temples and services. At the same time, the city provides exceptional opportunities for deeper analysis of the problematics of faith and for religious activism committed overall to the social. Rural and urban religion may experience the same difficulties in a state of impasse, without finding referents or leaders who are capable and ready for interpersonal interaction. One may be lost in the country as in the city, with no meaningful religious affiliation.

In reality, there are stratified, differentiated religious attitudes and behaviors both in the city and in the countryside. A discernable difference in religiosity largely depends on the circumstances, on the cultural traditions, and on the type of religiosity. In countries where folk religion is still strong, the difference is, indeed, small or even negligible. Of course, the specific conditions in the United States make that society unique; although it is not by chance that one speaks of the "Bible belt." Thus one could assume that regionalism in the United States, and maybe elsewhere too, prevails over the city-countryside dichotomy.

Perhaps the comparison between sociocultural areas and urban-rural homogeneous zones is more analytical, but that does not prevent one from observing islands of "deviance" with a greater or lesser religiosity in relation to the overall regional territory (Boulard and Rémy 1968). It is not, however, the case that the geographic factor is the independent variable every time; one also ought to mention the different cultural traditions in different geographic areas. Among other things, we must ask what criteria are used to constitute cultural regions, not forgetting that the religious variable too has its own intrinsic weight.

There are no easy solutions to this problem in light of the methodological difficulties of definition and especially of delimiting cultural regions connected with religious phenomenology. In other words, how do we constitute a cultural region apart from religion in such a way as to take religion seriously while, at the same time, how do we take religion as lived experience apart from a cultural area?

The attempt made by Liliane Voyé (1973) in Belgium to join the level of religious practice with the use of the territory by the residents of certain regions is interesting in this respect. The differentiation by class and socioanthropological culture seems to pass through participation in Sunday services on the basis of territorial characteristics; these are depicted on an accurate topographical map, accompanied by numerous statistics that show the degree of urbanization and ruralization, the "regional" and "ordinary" cities, the eponymous communities in a region and the peripheral ones. In sum, the regionalization of religion is largely confirmed.

Communal Religion

Moreover, as Betty Scharf observes (1970:42),

communal religion . . . is not confined to preliterate societies. . . . The city-states of the Greek world and of Babylonian civilization each had their protecting deity, and to be a citizen was to participate in his worship. Confucianism, taken as that group of cults of which Confucian philosophers approved, was a communal religion in which participation in cults of family, city and empire was part of the duty of the subject and the mark of acceptance of paternal and imperial authority. Even the other worldly religions have sometimes taken on this aspect of communalism. To the Russian, baptism in the Orthodox church was a rite of membership in the Russian nation. To the majority of Poles the Catholic faith is an inseparable part of their nationhood. . . . The alliance between the Presbyterian form of Protestantism and the Scottish sense of nationhood was once very strong, and even now still lives, as does the link between Catholic Christianity and Irish nationhood. Anglicans, at least up to the nineteenth century, looked upon membership in their church as the religious aspect of membership in the English nation.

The link with the community becomes very close in cases where ethnic-religious identity itself runs the risk of being extinguished, hence arises the strong solidarity typical of Jewish ghettoes or the strenuous defense by groups such as the Mormons and Sikhs, literally encircled by other dominant religious customs. (Nevertheless, most of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and western Europe generally became urbanized and assimilated—and even looked down upon the nonassimilated, "ghetto" Jews.)

However, the countryside can also represent a kind of refuge for religious confessions. That is what, with a wealth of data regarding North American denominationalism, H. Richard Niebuhr remarked (1929:183-187), returning to the beginning of the twentieth century, when

the unusually rapid growth of industry quickened the growth of cities in an unprecedented manner, eighty-eight per cent of all Baptists lived outside of the principal cities; eighty-six per cent of all Methodists, almost eighty-nine per cent of the Disciples and ninety-two of the United Brethren belonged to this class. On the other hand, less than fifty percent of the communicants of the Episcopal Church, fifty-four percent of the Unitarians, sixty-nine percent of the Congregationalists, seventy-two percent of the Presbyterians, and seventy-five percent of the Lutherans were classified in this category. Yet the religious conservatism and religious simplicity, the greater emotional interest, the individualism and continued sectarian organization of the rural churches evidently distinguish them from the urban group. . . . [It should also be remembered that] rural religion, however, is subject to further transition. The influence of rapid and frequent communication, the increasing dependence of the farm, as of industry, on the human devices of trade and commerce, the extension of urban education to the district schools, the migration of the members of rural denominations to the cities, where they remain loyal to their churches—these and many other influences, which are obvious to everyone, involve the rural churches of the West in a new process of accommodation. Passing through the median state of agricultural life the churches of the frontier become churches of the city and take on in rapidly increasing measure the character of urban and established culture.

In such a manner, the continuum between country and city, religious and social, becomes manifest. A similar phenomenon in French Protestantism, radically transformed in the last years of this century, has been discussed by Lambert and Willaime (1986). The rural exodus has emptied the typically Protestant lands, such as the Cévennes and Vivarais, promoting dispersal into urban settings and widespread recourse to mixed marriages (on average more than one in two Protestants marries a non-Protestant). The changes in religious practice and discussions are profound. Nonetheless, the relations between the religious and localistic dimensions remain solid, even though ethnicity becomes an ever more important factor.

It is no accident that very often a locality is identified with a religious building, and especially its bell tower (indeed, one speaks of campanilismo [bell towerism] in reference to identification with a place), not to mention the minister of religion, the real "officiator of the locality" (Lambert and Willaime 1986:183), able to give meaning and coherence to a whole series of local phenomena. According to Wach (1944), it is the spatial element that gives the local community its religious dimension. Thus, in Hindu culture, a united family also has a community of cult. The Yoruba family has a double bond of religion, with the divinity of the clan and that of the tribe. From the time that gave birth to the epic of Gilgamesh, there has been discussion of the difference between city dwellers and inhabitants of the desert: From this contrast Arab religion is said to be derived. Hebrew culture is also said to be based, according to a dominant interpretation, on the contrast between city and countryside. A Chinese village, especially in the south, may evolve in such a way that it becomes a center of cultural and symbolic significance at the intertribal level. The same thing occurred in ancient Egypt, where certain lesser residential areas became real, quite autonomous, states, which helped the autochthonous development of theological systems. Among the Hittites too, cities were organized theocratically.

Complexity and Differences

Today the problem of the manifest difference between urban centers with a wealth of cult centers, even an excess of them, and urban peripheries almost completely devoid of them, presents itself. The situation of the countryside seems ambivalent: There are sacred places left to fend for themselves, with no attendance, and others whose very isolation has led them to acquire and maintain a sacral aura of the first order, making them privileged points of reference (i.e., sanctuaries and the pilgrimages directed toward them).

This multiple form of the relation between sacred place and the outspreading and/or aggregating capacity of religion may explain many dynamics and suggest interpretations consistent with both the historical and the sociological aspects. Take the case of Palestine: It is the perennial "promised land," the goal to achieve after the traumatic experience of the Jewish people in the Egypt of the Pharaohs or the Europe of Nazism. But it is also an occasion for strife, charged as it is with meanings for the great religions of the written word. To enter into possession of the holy places is a way of confirming one's own faith. To go there on a pilgrimage is a unique, unforgettable experience. Basically, religion seems above all a link with a place, a space, a temple, a land, a building. Establishing its boundaries is itself an object of sacral legitimation that is translated into political contests and even military conflict. Liminality is reduced to a minimum; it is hard to maintain a noman's-land for long, as the events of the last days of the second millennium dramatically demonstrate. Nor is it only the case of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute but also that between Indians and Pakistanis (or Hindus and Muslims), not to mention the Sikhs, who practice and defend a religion halfway between Hinduism and Islam (especially in a temple, that of Amritsar, protected to the extent of a massacre). In this instance, it is no accident that the Sikhs attribute the greatest importance to the territorial dimension of their religion, to the point of viewing the Sikh state as a real article of faith. If the Jews repeat "next year in Jerusalem" (at the end of the Passover meal), the Sikhs wish each other that "the Khalsa shall rule."

A variation of the relation between place and religion is exhaustively described by Jean Pouillon (1975), who introduces it with a quotation from Fritz Zorn (in Mars , p. 254): It is "really regionality which grants beauty and efficiency to God." Pouillon (1981) dwells especially on the example of a people in Chad, the Kenga, about 20,000 subjects, who in every village divide into two clans, of which one, religious in nature, is called "of the land," whereas the other has a more political character. The "chief of the land" (garnang ) looks after the sector of natural forces whose benevolent support depends on the cult of the genii of the soil and the mountain of the locality. However, the religious dignitary is also chief of his clan, which he represents before the political leader, who is in turn the clan delegate to the religious leader. In short, the two powers, religious and political, are balanced with each other.

The legitimation of the difference occurs, as often happens in explanatory processes of an existing reality, through a mythological tale: The clan of the land, led by the religious leader, is said to be the indigenous one, whereas the other clan is said to be composed of immigrants. Thus the people longest on the spot know better the genii of the place and how to deal with them. It is the task of the head of the clan of the land to preside over the cult, but the ceremonial witnesses, above all, the participation of the "mountain chief" (garkwa ), who oversees the sacrifice, and the person who serves as interpreter (dalige ) of the local genie; both belong to the clan of the land whose chief they obey on the political level, whereas on the religious plane they are autonomous. Moreover, in every village there is a mound with a hole from which it is said the forefathers of the clan of the land emerged. In short, the religion is autochthonous, endogenous, and strictly linked to the place. Pouillon (1981:175), specializing in the analysis of myths, undertook a sophisticated interpretation in this instance, which may be summarized thus: "The cult defines the territorial community, outlines the geographic limits of the authority of the 'chief of the people' and as it were localises it." Pouillon notes furthermore that the situation of Christianity and Islam is quite different, in that these are religions of a universal nature, exogenous, imported and importable, which cross politico-territorial boundaries, assuming the character of a conquest. The local genii of the Kenga, on the contrary, are like people—only of one place and not elsewhere.

Localization and Delocalization

Precisely the delocalization of religion is at the basis of the phenomenon of secularization, insofar as, according to Dobbelaere (1981:39), "modern society does not need religion for its integration." Furthermore, according to Wilson (1976:20, 102),

The basic locus of operation is not the local community any more, but the societal system, which is organically integrated on the basis of impersonal roles. Consequently, the traditional, moral and religious culture is no longer the basis for legitimated control. In a societal system control is impersonal, technical, legal and bureaucratic; not local, human and moral as it was; it is increasingly mechanical, technical, computerized and electronized.

Indeed, in the last decades there have been no significant changes regarding what was previously written about the fact that "various studies confirm the negative influence of urbanization on religious behaviour. One should not therefore conclude that there is an identity between metropolis and secularization, or between metropolis and irreligion. The factors in play are many and vary from place to place" (Ferrarotti and Cipriani 1974:180).

The context of these variations is specific and gives rise to an equivalent number of interpretations that take their lead from the work of Cox (1965), who saw in urbanization the "context" in which the emancipation of man took place—secularization, that is—and hence arrived at Robert Bellah's "civil religion" (1967), a mode typical of the United States—the promised land" and "new Jerusalem" seen as allusive, orientating symbols that relocalize the religious aspect.

However, there are also situations where the overall territorial dimension does not correspond to a precise religious design. This is the case in the former Yugoslavia, with its 16 major and 10 lesser religious confessions, all having in common their being rooted primarily in specific areas. The Orthodox believers are in Serbia, although there are more in Macedonia and still others in Vojvodina; Roman Catholics are in Croatia and Slovenija; Muslims in Bosnia-Herce-govina and Montenegro; Slovak Evangelicals in Novi Sad, Slovenian in Lendava, Croat in Zagreb, and Serbian in Subotica; Calvinists are in the regions of Backa* , Banat, Baranya, and Slavonija; Baptists in Vojvodina, Kosovo, and Serbia; Adventists in Novi Sad, Zagreb, Nis* , and Sarajevo; Old Catholics in Zagreb, Belgrade, and Ljubljana; Methodists in Skopje and Novi Sad; Jews in Belgrade (headquarters of a league of 36 communities); Pentecostal Christians are in Zagreb; members of the church of the Christian Brethren in Backi* Petrovac and Zagreb; Jehovah's Witnesses operate in several regions, with over 100 communities; the Nazarene Christians are at Novi Sad. Among the groups with a lesser diffusion, there are Christians of the Evangelical Brothers at Belgrade, the Holy Church of Saints in Zagreb, Seventh-day Adventists in Belgrade, the "Less Baptized" in Subotica, the Christians with "Washed Feet" in Vrdnik, Free Catholics in Zagreb, members of the Esoteric University in Zagreb, the Seventh Day Church of God at Glozan* , the Church of God at Vinkovci, that of the "Late Rain" in Osijek (Ceranic* 1971).

However, the complexity of ex-Yugoslavia is also encountered at the global level. Fifteen religions have a truly global nature, because they occur in approximately 80 countries, hence in many nations religious complexity has become a constant. The link with the local dimension is important but not indispensable. In other words, there always has to be a source, a starting point, but subsequent diffusion, proselytism, and intercultural mobility do the rest. One may thus speak of a new geography of world religions (Dory 1993), their distributive relations and overlay, their influence on and from territory; but the ties with the past remain, especially that with the motherland, the country of origin. This is the case with Greek Orthodoxy, resting on autonomous parishes and autocephalous churches but also on a strong democracy from below, whose origin is to be dated to the ancient polis , the city-state of classical Greece (Bruneau 1993). Of a different kind is the process of gentrification, defined as the return of the middle-upper social classes from the suburbs to city centers. This postindustrial type of change is accompanied by an increase of nonbelief and "religious disaffiliation" in the core of urban centers. However, this is not supposed to mean "the completion of the secularization process in the gentrified inner city, for alongside the demise of the traditional church is a more hidden landscape of alternative movements, pursuing self-actualization, psychic awareness and spiritual exploration of many kinds" (Ley and Martin 1993:230).

Natural Areas of Religiosity

Nonetheless, cities have been and still are important religious centers and places where new religious movements or movements of religious rebirth arise. Cities would thus seem to favor religious practice, which may be as true is Sao* Paulo as in Mexico City, Dakar as Guatemala City. In Iran and Turkey too, the process of urbanization in the previous decades has given renewed stimulus to religious initiatives. In Teheran, there were 293 mosques in 1961-1962, but by 1975-1976 there were already 1,140; whereas the population had increased by 100%, the mosque rate outdistanced the population threefold (as Arjomand reports, 1984; see also Gill 1993 on the rate of church building in nineteenth-century England). The same is true of Djakarta: 460 mosques in 1965, 1,186 in 1978-1979. In the more urbanized regions of Turkey too, an increase of visible religiosity has been recorded, thanks to numerous associations of a socioreligious nature. In fact, urbanization and religious revitalization may go hand in hand; Islamization is reinforced in the passage from rural to urban environments. Similarly in the West, cities are historically important religious centers like bishoprics and other seats of power—religious, secular, or an admixture of the two. But what about New York, London, Stockholm, Budapest, or Prague: Are they also centers of religion?

However, one should not forget the historicoterritorial continuity of religious roots (Gaustad 1962: 159): "In 1650 American Religion displayed a high degree of geographical unity, with Congregationalists in New England, Baptists in Rhode Island, Dutch Reformed in New York, Presbyterians on Long Island, Lutherans in Delaware, Roman Catholics in Maryland and Anglicans in Virginia." Some portions of this regionalism remain three centuries later, while others are quite different. One can see, however, that as waves of migration took place across the United States—for example, from New England to Northwestern Illinois to the Willamette Valley—the New England religious traditions moved out and on with the settlers, as more recent migration patterns effected for at least a period a "southernization" of American religion (see Shibley 1996).

Rural areas also present a religious continuum, especially in Japan. It is because of tradition and culture:

Rissho Koseikai developed before the period of industrialisation and still maintains a hold on the rural middle class, appealing only to the relatively well-to-do small business groups in cities. The Soka Gakkai , on the other hand, is a post-industrialisation phenomenon appealing specifically to the lower middle class or young, labouring class. Buddhism and Tenrikyo still maintain a strong foundation in traditional rural areas. The majority of the "new religions" are, however, predominantly urban in character. Thus . . . , the rural-urban factor appears to exert a profound influence of religiosity in most industrial societies. This rural-urban difference does not necessarily exhaust the range of variation uncovered by sociographic analysis, and some evidence has been discovered to suggest the possible presence of "natural areas" of religiosity or "areas with religious personalities" which relate to geographical rather than local factors. Certainly such possibilities are relatively well established and should be incorporated into theories of the secularisation process. (Glasner 1977:86)

The problem of the definition of these "natural" areas of religiosity, however, remains open. The concept seems acceptable to the extent that the naturalness is given by a local, native, indigenous, but historically contextualized origin of every religious phenomenon.

A typical example of historical contextualization is that of American civil religion as described by Bellah (1967). For Italy, one may instead speak of a diffused religion in relation to Catholicism (Cipriani 1989): People's orienting principles, both personally and socially, definitely do not neglect the religious education that is received in the phases of primary and secondary socialization but that, in fact, often arise from them. In this way, their capillary nature and their interrelatedness substantiate and testify to diffused religion. It is not expressed in the familiar form of church religion but through the continual reorientation of attitudes and conduct that deal with everyday circumstances of various kinds: moral, political, economic, or juridical. Furthermore, the characteristic factors in church religion seem more constant. The variables in diffused religion are, by contrast, more changeable according to the syntheses that it produces from time to time and naturally from place to place . In fact, the new way of seeing reality, the different Weltanschauung , is the result of the collision-encounter between what already exists and what is still in the process of becoming.

Diffused religion therefore becomes dominant precisely where there is a preexisting, dominant, fideistic type of religion. If this were not the case, the outcome of social interactions would produce quite different sedimentations that could be typical of multicultural and therefore pluriconfessional situations. It is important, above all, to distinguish clearly between the manifold contents of diffused religion. The Catholicism of Italians, for example, is in fact crisscrossed horizontally and vertically by quite heterogeneous strands that reflect regional and territorial backgrounds, social stratification, and contingent historical events. Hence it is impossible to simplify matters. The space-time differences are noteworthy and certainly not generic in character.

New Movements

It is equally true that irreligious, secularist, and atheistic movements find a way to develop in the urban environment as a particularly fertile and welcoming terrain.

The "decline of religion" hypothesis, for example, may or may not be associated with a rise of irreligion. On the other hand, there are good grounds for assuming that the rise of irreligion will be associated with secularisation. This is because the political aim of most irreligious movements has been the realization of a secular society. Free thought, secular, ethical, rationalist and humanist organisations have all worked in different ways and different contexts to achieve the complete separation of Church and State, the abolition of privileges granted to religious bodies, the repeal of religiously-based legislation, and a completely secular system of education, as components in a complete programme for secularisation. (Campbell 1971:6-7)

But the results of these acts have been ambiguous. There have been some results in France and in England, but in the United States the effect has been minimal, after an initial flurry of results at the beginning of the nineteenth century:

Ironically it was the very same conditions which appeared to favour the growth of secularism in America which in fact worked against a strong and influential movement. One feels that in the long run the secularists would have benefitted from the sort of official persecution and opposition which they experienced in Britain, and they would certainly have benefitted from the existence of a state Church in that there would have been a real possibility of uniting radical, political and theological opinion. (Campbell 1971:61)

On the contrary, it was religious freedom in the United States that prevented the birth of a strong antistatist and antiecclesial movement.

Nor can the ecological aspect be excluded in phenomena of intraecclesial and, afterward, extraecclesial dissent. The movement of "traditionalist" Archbishop Lefèbvre, who ultimately bolted from the structure of the Roman Church, analyzed by Isabelle Raboud (1983), is emblematic in this sense: She hypothesized that the involvement of residents of Valais in religious traditionalism was motivated by dissatisfaction with recent changes in that part of Switzerland, where the conservative bishop had installed his seminary (at Ecône). Lefèbvre's movement was supposed thus to have provided again a familiar, emotionally rich environment above all to elderly people who believed certain values and lifestyles were forever lost (their catechism told them, among other things, to "pay taxes, defend the homeland and vote according to conscience"; the priest was a key figure; services had a basic importance). The creation of dams and the development of an industrialized agriculture had upset the system of local life, which now became marked by a new way of economic thinking. Many were marginalized. The ground was thus ready for the sprouting of the seed of the gospel of traditionalist salvation sown by Lefèbvre.

For many areas, there is a shortage of adequate probing data that might help us understand current trends. For example, regarding the situation in Bulgaria, there are no broad representative scientific data on the religious phenomenon. The gaps cannot be filled in by the occasional study-visit, thinking that one can avoid in this way elaborating mere impressionistic observations (Martin 1969:131-152). However, some analysis of the countries of central and eastern Europe is starting to become available (Swatos 1994), and there emerges the importance as a strategic symbol of a place such as the Catholic sanctuary of Medjugorje (formerly in Hercegovina, now in Croatia), which has sociopolitical, mysticotheological, and medical value —like Lourdes). In fact,

It is often presented as a simple story, a devotional beginning with the vision of six peasant children and ending with the pilgrimage of millions of faithful. But nothing is simple in Yugoslavia: to Croats the apparition is a reaffirmation of faith but also a "focal point for [nationalistic] solidarity"; to the Serbs Gospa Ustasha recalls a nightmare but a generation removed. So the Medjugorje narrative needs to be placed in a sociohistorical context of ethnic and religious disagreement, strife and conflict. The village of Medjugorje is part of the complex and tortured Yugoslav history. (Markle and McCrea 1994: 206)

Once again, the local factor has its religious weight (but not that alone).

Mobility and Religions

A last relevant phenomenon should not be neglected: that of increasing social and territorial mobility, which also means new occasions for encounters and conflicts among different cultures and religions, possibly outside their places of origin. However, cultural geography plays an important role not only in the rural-urban complex but also in cultural differences. Thus

East Asia is an ideological market dominated by folk religion, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism (or Confucianism-nationalism), the new religions, and communism. The strength of any one is partially dependent on the weakness of all the others. As a world view, folk religions are losing their usefulness, legitimacy, and integrity. Folk rituals are being transformed into artistic ethnic markers. Folk beliefs and practices are being coopted by charismatic Christianity and the new religions. (Tamney 1993:67)

Meanwhile, however, why do some religious modes not seem fitted to easy mobility? Why has liberation theology, typically Latin American, not been exported to other contexts, save with limited exceptions? Why did this theology develop particularly in Brazil? There clearly exist conditions that promote or prevent the outcome of a vast social and religious enterprise. These are the ecological, temporal, and human contingencies that orient the action of subjects from one minute to the next, and from place to place. If one does not grasp this dynamic, it is impossible to understand the importance of the ecology of religion that explains (or attempts to explain) the emergence of Mecca or Medjugorje, the defense of Jerusalem or Amritsar, the sacral legitimation of the Ise complex or of a mountain near a Kenga village. In all these cases, as others, the religion-locality nexus is as much taken for granted as it is obvious, but the tendentiously free action of individuals is what lets them establish and calculate what advantage to derive from the sacrality of a space, a temple, or a soil.

See also Geographic Mobility, Pilgrimage

Roberto Cipriani


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D. Dory (ed.), "The Geography of Religions," Social Compass 40, 2(1993)

É. Durkheim, Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse (Paris: Alcan, 1912)

F. Ferrarotti and R. Cipriani, Sociologia del fenomeno religioso (Rome: Bulzoni, 1974)

R. Finke and R. Stark, The Churching of America (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992)

L. J. Francis, Rural Anglicanism (London: Collins, 1985)

E. Gaustad, Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Harper, 1962)

Geographia Religionum (Berlin: Reimer, 1985-1990), 7 vols.

R. Gill, The Myth of the Empty Church (London: SPCK, 1993)

P.E. Glasner, The Sociology of Secularization (Boston: Routledge, 1977)

F. Kniss, "Toward a Theory of Ideological Change," in Time, Place and Circumstance , ed. W. H. Swatos, Jr. (New York: Greenwood, 1989): 151-161

Y. Lambert and J.-P. Willaime, "La vie religieuse," in L'esprit des lieux (Paris: CNRS, 1986): 177-208

D. Ley and R. B. Martin, "Gentrification as Secularization," Social Compass 40(1993):217-232

G. E. Markle and F. B. McCrea, "Medjugorje and the Crisis in Yugoslavia," in W. H. Swatos, Jr. (ed.), q.v . (1994): 197-207

D. Martin, The Religious and the Secular (London: Routledge, 1969)

H. R. Niebuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism (New York: Holt, 1929)

D. A. Nock, "Differential Ecological Receptivity of Conversionist and Revolutionist Sects," Sociological Analysis 50(1989):229-246

J. Pouillon, Fétiches sans fétichisme (Paris: Maspero, 1975)

J. Pouillon, "Des dieux et des lieux," Le temps de la réflexion 2(1981):171-181

I. Raboud, "Mgr Lefèbvre et ses fidèles Valaisans," Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Soziologie 9(1983):617-638

B. R. Scharf, The Sociological Study of Religion (London: Hutchinson, 1970)

M. A. Shibley, Resurgent Evangelicalism (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996)

R. Stark and W.S. Bainbridge, The Future of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985)

W. H. Swatos, Jr. (ed)., Politics and Religion in Central and Eastern Europe (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1994)

J. Tamney, "Religion in Capitalist East Asia," in A Future for Religion? ed. W.H. Swatos, Jr. (London: Sage, 1993): 55-72

L. Voyé. Sociologie du geste religieux (Brussels: Les Éditions Vie Ouvrière, 1973)

J. Wach, Sociology of Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944)

B. R. Wilson, Contemporary Transformations of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976).

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