Postmodernist Approaches

As Grassie (1997) notes: “Postmodernism represents a great range of philosophical points of view” and reflects what he terms “A broad and elusive movement of thought”. It is, in other words, an approach to thinking about the social world that encompasses a wide range of different viewpoints gathered under the theoretically convenient (but potentially misleading) banner of postmodernism. This does, of course, present us with a couple of problems, the main one being that, when thinking specifically about religion, postmodernism doesn’t present a particularly unified face to the world. This “lack of theoretical unity” is reflected in Taylor’s (1987) observation that: "For some, postmodernism suggests the death of God and the disappearance of religion, for others, the return of traditional faith, and for others still, the possibility of recasting religious ideas".

Although this makes it particularly difficult to talk convincingly about postmodernist approaches to religion, there are arguably a range of general concepts employed by postmodernists that can be applied to an understanding of such behaviour. In this respect, a couple of initial concepts are initially significant:

Narratives: This idea holds, rightly or wrongly, that knowledge consists of stories that compete with one another to explain something. From this position religion represents just another form of narrative - one that, more importantly, can sometimes be considered a:

Metanarrative (or “big story”): Narratives sometimes break out of small-scale story telling and become all-encompassing stories that seek to explain “everything about something” (or, in some cases, “everything about everything”, to paraphrase Rosenau’s (1992) characterisation of the “religion metanarrative”). Religious metanarratives, in this sense, represent a general structure or framework around which individual beliefs, practices and experiences can be orientated and, of course, ordered. It...

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