A God of One's Own: Religion's Capacity for Peace and Potential for Violence
September 2010, Polity
The central question that will decide the continued existence of humanity is this: How can we conceive of a type of inter-religious tolerance in which loving one's neighbor does not imply war to the death, a type of tolerance whose goal is not truth but peace?
Is what we are experiencing at present a regression of monotheistic religion to a polytheism of the religious spirit under the heading of ‘a God of one's own'? In Western societies, where the autonomy of the individual has been internalized, individual human beings tend to feel increasingly at liberty to tell themselves little faith stories that fit their own lives to appoint ‘Gods of their own'. However, this God of
their own is no longer the one and only God who presides over salvation by seizing control of history and empowering his followers to be intolerant and use naked force.
I The diary of ‘a God of one’s own’: Etty Hillesum. An unsociological introduction
II The return of the Gods and the crisis of European modernity. A sociological introduction
III Tolerance and violence: The two faces of the religions
IV Heresy or the invention of a ‘God of one’s own’
V The cunning of unintended consequences: How to civilize global religious conflicts. Five models
VI Peace instead of Truth? The futures of the religions in the world risk society
- This is a major new book by one of the world’s leading sociologists. Here he draws on his theory of the second modernity to offer a highly original account of the role of religion and religious experience in contemporary societies.
- In Western societies, where the autonomy of the individual has been internalized, religious belief has become detached from established churches and increasingly personalized, so that individuals feel increasingly at liberty to find their own forms of faith that fit their own lives Ð to appoint ‘Gods of their own’.
- But this ‘God of one’s own’ is not the only God, and the central question we face today is: How can we conceive of a type of inter-religious tolerance in which loving one’s neighbor does not imply war to the death?
- This will appeal to students and academics in sociology, social theory and religious studies, but its clarity and accessibility will also ensure that it appeals to a much broader readership interested in the nature and role of religion in the 21st century.
New Humanist, four star review
"A volume with more than enough ideas to inspire the study of religion for the foreseeable future. The author's acclaimed individualization thesis is put to work in the context of an emerging debate concerning the cultivation of humanity: one between believers in various forms of religious universals, and a form of cosmopolitanism which acknowledges that variety is the spice of life. Whatever the 'god of one's own' owes to universalism, Beck's controversial argument is that the most effective god of one's own lies with non-essentialist, relatively modest and sceptical, cosmopolitanism realism."
Paul Heelas, Lancaster University
"This new book from one of Europe's leading thinkers is a welcome, thoughtful engagement with the prominence of religion in the contemporary world. Writing as an unabashed sociological secularist, but one who refuses the simplifications of typical ideas of secularization, Beck explores religion's contradictory potentials, patterns of individuation and group identity, and the relation of religion to the "crisis of European modernity". Beck should inspire other sociologists and secularists to think harder about phenomena they too often ignore."
Craig Calhoun, New York University and President, Social Science Research Council