Religion and civilization in the sociology of Norbert Elias: Fantasy–reality balances in long-term perspective

History of the Human Sciences:095269512210946 (forthcoming)
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Many sociologists have drawn attention to the puzzling absence of a detailed discussion of religion in Elias’s investigation of the European civilizing process. Elias did not develop a sociology of religion, but he did not overlook the importance of beliefs in the ‘spirit world’ in the history of human societies. In his writings such convictions were described as fantasy images that could be contrasted with ‘reality-congruent’ knowledge claims. Elias placed fantasy–reality balances, whether religious or secular, at the centre of the analysis of how societies have dealt with collective fears that arise in response to largely uncontrolled conditions. He located religious orientations within a broader framework of analysis regarding fantasy–reality balances in the first human groups and in current state-organized societies. Elias stressed how balances changed in ‘civilized’ societies with the rise of the natural sciences. But his writings emphasized the continuing influence of fantasy images in technologically sophisticated societies, particularly in the context of national and international power struggles. His analysis of how fantasy images acquired considerable influence under conditions of fear is important for studies of social responses to global challenges including climate change. Connections with Weber’s sociology of religion point the way to theoretically informed empirical research on balances between fantasy and reality-congruence in a tumultuous and unpredictable era.



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Ill Met in Ghana.Katie Liston & Stephen Mennell - 2009 - Theory, Culture and Society 26 (7-8):52-70.

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