The Nova Effect

Especially with modernity, religiosity had become something suspect. According to the secularisation thesis, the rational advancement of societies will ultimately lead to the decline of religion. The contemporary situation in fact proves the opposite. After a decline of religiosity after the second world war, today we see how religion continuous to rise again.

After having studied religion for some years, I believe it is not really possible to make a relevant distinction between religious and non-religious people. So-called “atheists” often express a commitment to their beliefs, which also has an influence on the rituals they take refuge to. And even for the rest category of the “non-religious”, for whom religious questions are apparently meaningless, we see often how morality, meaning making and rituals also connect these people to a larger framework of ultimate sense. The only truly non-religious are therefore the nihilists and the depressed; true nihilists are hard to come by, and fortunately, depression is for many people a transitory experience, although it might stick for a very long time.

The contemporary philosopher Charles Taylor has written a striking analysis of religiosity in our postmodern age with his 2007 publication A Secular Age. According to him, present day religiosity is characterised by what he calls the “nova effect”, in which the possibilities for individuals to give meaning to their lives has increased exponentially in the past decades. Since religiosity is no longer a public matter, but has been relegated behind the front door, the question how to understand our position in the world has become a matter of individual deliberation and therefore the options to do so have become vast.

Therefore, although “religion” in the form of institutional affiliation has been in decline, the individual expressions of religiosity have skyrocketed. I believe this evolution is an enrichment to society. If religiosity is not in the first place a public matter, this enables people to experiment with forms and expressions to connect to their perceived divinities. The diversity of people will lead to unexpected encounters when we inquire each other about our spiritual or religious rituals. No longer does modernity drive a wedge between institutional believers and the modernists; the postmodern playful human has claimed the spiritual for herself in order to create new relationships with others.


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