Friday, August 24, 2012
A Systems Theory of Religion
Courtesy of my friends at St. John's Center for Law and Religion comes news of the publication in English of Niklas Luhmann's posthumous book, A Systems Theory of Religion. It looks very interesting. Here's a description:
A Systems Theory of Religion, still unfinished at Niklas Luhmann's death in 1998, was first published in German two years later thanks to the editorial work of André Kieserling. One of Luhmann's most important projects, it exemplifies his later work while redefining the subject matter of the sociology of religion. Religion, for Luhmann, is one of the many functionally differentiated social systems that make up modern society. All such subsystems consist entirely of communications and all are "autopoietic," which is to say, self-organizing and self-generating. Here, Luhmann explains how religion provides a code for coping with the complexity, opacity, and uncontrollability of our world. Religion functions to make definite the indefinite, to reconcile the immanent and the transcendent.
Synthesizing approaches as disparate as the philosophy of language, historical linguistics, deconstruction, and formal systems theory/cybernetics, A Systems Theory of Religiontakes on important topics that range from religion's meaning and evolution to secularization, turning decades of sociological assumptions on their head. It provides us with a fresh vocabulary and a fresh philosophical and sociological approach to one of society's most fundamental phenomena.
The book's scheduled publication date is in October. Aside from making a splendid Columbus Day gift, it may also provide a nice prelude or companion piece for readers--and I trust there will be many--of the book First Amendment Institutions, which should be published the following month.
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