The crucial point, she argues, is the chain of memory and tradition which makes the individual believer a member of the community. From this point of view, religion is the ideological, symbolic and social device by which individual and collective awareness of belonging to a lineage of believers is created and controlled.
Modern societies, Hervieu–Lé:ger argues, are not more rational than past societies, but rather suffer from a kind of collective amnesia. They are less and less capable of maintaining a living collective ′chain′ of memory as a source of meaning. However, as major religious traditions decline, a range of surrogate memories appears, which also permit the contraction of collective identities. These ′small memories′ are creating an upsurge of ′emotional communities′ and the affirmation of ethno–religions within Europe and elsewhere.
This book will be essential reading for students and scholars of theology, religious studies and sociology.
Part I Doubt about the subject matter: .
1. Sociology in opposition to religion? Preliminary considerations.
2. The fragmentation of religion in modern societies.
3. The elusive sacred.
Part II As our fathers believed:.
4. Religion as a way of believing.
5. Questions about tradition.
6. From religions to the religious.
Part III A break in the chain:.
7. Religion deprived of memory.
8. The chain reinvented.
Conclusion: Post–traditional society and the future of religious institutions.
′The author is a noted sociologist of religion in France, and this book is yet another and very valuable, contribution to the growing literature that rejects and moves beyond the older assumption that there is a necessary connection between modernity and secularization.′ First Things
′This is an interesting book that deserves a wider audience if only for its detailed consideration of the relative merits of competing religions.′ American Journal of Sociology