chapter  5
Stability and change
Pages 17

In part because religious traditions seek to connect believers to something that transcends and interprets culture, religious communities often understand their practice and ideas to be static, an unchanging source of continuity over time. Some academic observers also treat religion as a static and unmediated activity whose social purpose is to conserve traditional values. Yet the historical study of lived religious traditions demonstrates that religion is fluid, changing over time and in different cultural contexts, sometimes conserving and at other times challenging cultural norms. To understand religious traditions, it is necessary both to think about what

has endured over time and to recognize the ways traditions have adapted to new cultures, issues, and contexts. For example, though Christians have a sense of fidelity to a 2,000-year tradition, Christianity looks quite different in different cultures and time periods. The beliefs and practices among Middle Eastern Christians in the first century, medieval European Catholics, and contemporary African Pentecostals are best understood when we give attention to their differences as well as their similarities. Religion adapts to changes in political and social structures, in style and taste, and in who holds power in society to produce new forms of religion, which are expressed in changes in religion’s mediations. Changes that make media technologies cheaper and simpler to use grant

greater access to a wider number of people. When people from outside the traditional centers of religious authority take advantage of this access in order to

lished leaders and institutions whose power is confirmed by already established forms of media. Other chapters focus on the rise of new religious movements and consider how, in seemingly secular societies, other forms of cultural mediation such as nationalism or fandom may do the work of religion. This chapter explores how the changes in media and mediation have contributed to changes within traditional forms of religion.