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Commonly Modern: Rethinking the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversies


Let us begin with the problem of binaries. Stark differentiation strengthens the consequences of difference. If you label something “sacred” for example, and suggest its opposite is “profane” the maintenance of that difference becomes quickly outsized because their difference is contingent on their connection. “Sacred things are those things protected and isolated by prohibitions,” Émile Durkheim writes. “Profane things are those things to which such prohibitions apply and which must keep their distance from what is sacred.” There is no profane without the maintenance of the sacred; the sacred is established through its labored separation from the profane. Binaries are not static opposition as much as they are descriptive of a tense purlieu of their differentiation. In the case of the sacred and profane, Durkheim describes that space as religion itself. “Religious beliefs are the representations that express the nature of sacred things and the relations they sustain among themselves or with profane things,” he famously explained in 1912, setting the stage for the modern study of religion as one devoted to the analysis of the perpetuation of that binary.

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George Marsden , Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980)

The Postmodern Turn: New Perspectives on Social Theory, ed. Steven Seidman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)

R. G. Robins , A. J. Tomlinson: Plainfolk Modernist (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
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