Martin Marty—Which Religions Tend to Hold Cultural Dominance?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The class will please come to order. Our text today is "The Law of Cultural Dominance," formulated by David Kaplan in Cultural Evolution, published fifty-two years ago, and noticed too little since. I find online that I quoted it in a scholarly article in 1977 and noted a couple of other citations through the decades. We happy few who profited from it have an insight which helps explain much in religious change. Here it is: "That cultural system which more effectively exploits the energy resources of a given environment will tend to spread in that environment at the expense of less effective systems."

In the United States, Pentecostals, conservative evangelicals, African American, Latino/Latina Americans, Latter-Day Saints, Korean Protestants, and other prospering religious groups know this Law without having read Kaplan. For one illustration: the energy resources associated with mass media—radio, TV, movies, and now the internet are available to all, but mainly the kind of groups I mentioned have "exploited" them efficiently....

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture

5 Comments
Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:07 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Don R wrote:

Is the mainline problem really one of technique or an excessive attachment to the ways of the past?  It wouldn’t have anything to do with the Gospel or lack thereof, would it?  Viewing religion in this way—i.e., as a merely sociological phenomenon—seems unlikely to stem the mainline denominations’ decline.  More likely, substituting a conventional academic perspective for the accumulated of the wisdom of the church is a big part of the problem.

May 11, 11:20 am | [comment link]
2. Sherri2 wrote:

I think the message from mainline churches is often - “Hey, we don’t take this stuff *seriously*.”  I don’t think many seekers are going to be attracted to that.

May 11, 12:23 pm | [comment link]
3. Ian+ wrote:

I tend to agree with you, #2. Lack of confidence in the Gospel is not attractive. But along with firm conviction of the truth of the resurrection, I think we also need to be more missionary in finding imaginative, effective, engaging ways of taking the Gospel to the world. The current discussion of streamlining the structure and governance of the church is important and timely. Do we really need all that bureaucracy and social justice agency? Why not simply support an established ecumenical relief agency like Action by Churches Together, and dump all the rest of the contentious advocacy stuff and simply focus on proclamation of the risen Christ? If all our resources were brought to bear on that one needful thing—really the only thing the Church was created for, apart from worship—then the people whom the Gospel transforms would do the work of relief, advocacy, etc. That’s how the ancient Church worked.

May 11, 12:34 pm | [comment link]
4. Sherri2 wrote:

I’ll return the favor and agree with you, Fr. Ian.
“If all our resources were brought to bear on that one needful thing—really the only thing the Church was created for, apart from worship—then the people whom the Gospel transforms would do the work of relief, advocacy, etc.”

Yes, yes and yes. Now, I think the church is seen too often telling everybody else what to do and spending a lot of money to actually do very little. And, worse, as embarrassed to share the Good News instead of sharing it with the fervor of a heart that believes it to BE good news.

May 11, 1:05 pm | [comment link]
5. driver8 wrote:

On the whole I’m quite cautious about functionalist sociological claims. Or at least I want ask what are the causal mechanisms by which this asserted function is achieved and maintained. However, in this case I’m not quite sure that the claim being advanced consists in, since “energy resources” is unusually enigmatic even for a highfalutin structural functionalist sociologist. Marty seems to interpret it, in this context, as meaning “mass media”.

So the claim is - churches that more “effectively” (and this of course needs specifying to avoid circularity) use mass media, grow in numbers and influence.

I don’t know whether this is true - and, in particular, would like to see case studies to show that it is true of the Latter Day Saints who have grown consistently both before and during the age of mass media.

May 11, 4:21 pm | [comment link]
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