Individualized religion and the theory of learning

  • Claire Wanless The Open University


Individualized or postmodern religion, that prioritizes subjective experience and places ultimate authority with the individual, has increased in prevalence over recent decades. Secularization theory views individualized religion as a secularizing phenomenon, due to its supposed inherent structural instability. It is claimed that religious frameworks that locate authority within the individual cannot inspire commitment, create consensus or cohesion, or motivate evangelization, and are thus rendered unable to transmit their ideas, values and practices over time or to have significant impact on wider culture or society. Such a view assumes that effectively functioning religion requires a top-down, hierarchical organizational structure in which members are passive and obedient recipients of knowledge rather than being its active and dynamic co-creators. This article puts forward an alternative, arguably more plausible, way of theorizing individualized religion. Instead of hierarchical structures, individualized forms of religion tend to adopt unplanned and undirected rhizomatic networks of producer-consumers, which both result from and enable their culture of radical personal autonomy. Instead of transmitting values, ideas and practices down vertical lines, they do so horizontally, for example through the creation of spontaneously generated communities of practice. In this way, it is argued, these forms of religion are in principle at least able to transmit themselves effectively both within and between generations.

How to Cite
WANLESS, Claire. Individualized religion and the theory of learning. Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religion (JBASR), [S.l.], v. 18, p. 11-24, feb. 2017. ISSN 2516-6379. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 25 apr. 2024. doi: