Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Carsten Herrmann-Pillath on 'A Conceptual Model of Two Modes of Religious Individualization: Theory and application on China'

Religious individualization is a multi-facetted phenomenon. There have been attempts at developing a taxonomy of forms of individualization. Starting out from one advanced proposal, the so-called ‘Otto-matrix’, I argue that taxonomy needs to be supplemented by an analysis of evolutionary dynamics. On the one hand, this provides additional rationale for a specific taxonomic structure, and on the other hand, this helps to project the taxonomy on historical trajectories of religious individualization. Against the backdrop of a methodological debate in Chinese religious studies over the so-called ‘religious market model’, I submit a conceptual model of two modes of religious individualization that builds on Henáff’s distinction between the gift exchange and market exchange. In the China debate, Palmer had argued that there is a systematic tension between the market mode and the gift mode which results into a dynamic co-existence. I generalize this idea in extending the market mode along the lines of institutional theory, going back to Hegel’s use of the market as a conceptual template of ‘civil society’. The market mode covers phenomena such as individual rights, freedom of choice and institutionalization, whereas the gift mode is about authenticity, personal experience and community. The two modes connect via two dynamic forces that I demote as ‘religious entrepreneurship’ and ‘community formation’, respectively. These are actually dialectical mechanisms, as, for example, institutionalization may protect formal individual rights, but also may trigger religious entrepreneurship re-establishing claims on authenticity. I show how this dialectical mechanism involves the different dimensions and criteria of the Otto-matrix. The case of China serves as a brief illustration of this conceptual model.