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Romantic Love and Sex have become the new secular Religion of the West. Discuss.

Romantic Love and Sex have become the new secular Religion of the West. Discuss.

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Hannah Lockhart. Originally submitted for Social Science at University College Dublin, with lecturer Prof. Tom Inglis in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Hannah Lockhart. Originally submitted for Social Science at University College Dublin, with lecturer Prof. Tom Inglis in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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Essay Title: Romantic Love and Sex have become the new secularreligions of the West. Discuss.
This paper deals with two predominant issues prevalent in our society which are firstly,secularisation and secondly, the emphasis on the importance of romantic love. From asociological perspective, romantic love is simply a new form of religious inclination wovenconveniently into the media and general zeitgeist of society without an ounce of friction.Romantic love even seems to have its own salvation (finding the other half to complete you),its own born-
again ritual (“I was dead until I met you”) and i
ts own creed (the Hollywoodfilm). If this is the case, then surely secularisation is not taking place but rather, organisedreligions in Western society are being replaced by new ones.The core research done for the completion of this paper were the reading of a series of articles (two from
Theory, Culture and Society
that were of great use throughout thediscussion of this topic) and books written by sociological theorists such as Steve Bruce whodoes a great deal of work on the pending spectre of secularisation, the work of Beck andBeck-
Gernsheim who‟s
article „The Normal Chaos of Love‟ argues a great deal
in favour of the notion that romantic love is if anything, a religion. This paper also touchesbriefly on the work of Emile Durkheim who wrote his own characterisation of what areligious organisation is. This was researched in order for us to further our understanding of whether or not we could categorise love as the religion that Durkheim talks about.Some interesting things revealed through the research embarked upon by this writer werehow similar the patterns of religion are with the patterns of love. The romantic loveconceived by us in the Western world is a phenomenon we rarely question and monogamyseems to be something that the individual members of society seek. Several theories putforward notions but one that revealed itself as particularly interesting were the theories aboutromantic love and the rise of capitalism. With the rise of capitalism inevitably comes the riseof individualism. With the rise of such individualism thus, comes the rise of the individualsearch for personal gratification. Illouz (1997) writes that romantic love exists parallel toconsumer capitalism and is marketed on a daily basis.Beyond theory however go the practical implications for discovery of 
„new religiousmovements‟ or rather, „new secular religions‟ such as the notion of romantic love. If 
organised religions in the Western world were driven by community, family and loyalty toGod then the secular religions of romantic love are certainly driven by individualisation,personal fulfilment and loyalty to the spouse. Despite cynical commentary that the notion of 
„love‟ is merely a charged desire for intercourse disguised in emperor‟s clothing, Western
ideals of romantic love appears to be the spearheading figure of postmodern religion.
The secularisation thesis has been the subject of debate and concern amongst social scientistsfor a considerable amount of time (Wallis & Bruce, 1992, p. 8). The thesis has been predictedby classical theorists such as Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Max Weber and Sigmund Freud.However, the secularisation thesis has been criticised by opposing theorists who have arguedthat religiosity does not simply
vanish because humanity has become „too clever to accepttraditional views‟ (Bruce, 1996, p. 37). Steve Bruce argues that in the modern day there aretoo many people who believe in „dreadful nonsense‟ for it to be rightfully claimed that
Western society is
no longer religious due to an increase in „maturity and intelligence‟
(Bruce, 1996, p. 37). Rather, the power of official, orthodox religious institutions hasdeclined whilst the human need for meaning and the human condition that requires religiosityand spirituality remains.Thomas Luckmann, author of 
The Invisible Religion
(1976), was concerned with the notionthat human beings have a natural inclination towards religiously directed practices. He
theorised that we have all have a natural „religious impulse‟ (Hamilton, 2001, p. 162). Instead
of religious orthodoxy and official religious institutions, we have concerned ourselves with a
„common‟ or „folk 
like‟ practice that has religious connotations but does not exist under the
domination of a particular official institution (Wallis & Bruce, 1992, p. 11). Secularisation ismerely the adaptation of official religious beliefs and practices in unofficial ways (ibid).Bruce theorises that this kind of secularised society has come about through modernisationand industrialisation and as a result, society has become fragmented and the community hasbroken down (Bruce, 1996, p. 39-43).If it is the case that society is simply replacing old, traditional religious views with new,modern religious views, what kinds of things take its place? How would one classifyanything as religious? Émile Durkheim (Durkheim 1961 in Davies, 2007, p. 42) surmises thatall religious thinking, whether simple or complex, has the common characteristic of dividing
things into „sacred‟ or „profane‟ things. Sacred things protect the believer whereas profane
things are those that the believer must distance themselves from. Furthermore, religion is
„collective‟ as illustrated by the appropriation of Temples and Churches as places where
believers congregate and worship together (ibid, p. 46). Durkheim wrote that by gathering ina common place of worship with other members of a given religious denomination creates acollective consciousness which perpetuates the use of moral traditions, rites and rituals (ibid,p. 54). And the purposes of these acts of religious nature are both functional and stimulative,

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