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This review is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

SIGNS AND SYMBOLS David Martin, The Breaking of the Image: A Sociology of Christian Theory and Practice (Blackwell) £8.95

The problem with so much of what passes for sociology is its tendency to reflect and reproduce an impoverished, ideologically distorted view of the world. It is not social reality that such writings discern but a realm whose defining features are imported into the picture from the masters of nineteenth-century positivism and materialism. In recent years the sociology of religion has suffered less from such distortion than other areas of study. There are three reasons for this. In the first place the long-term study of religion is unlikely to appeal to anyone who regards the sacred as a sphere of fantasy and illusion. Then, it places the investigator in close contact with a range of experience and symbols which tend to explode the tidy, disenchanted worldview of the reductionist. And finally, the field has attracted scholars who are themselves religious and attached to traditions capable of intellectual survival in the oppressive jungle of ideas.

In his latest book David Martin writes of the complex of signs and symbols through which Christianity expresses the tension of its problematic relationship to the given world of society and nature. Unlike the cosmological religions of the ancient Near East, Christianity has never merely sacralised the world as it is:


The concept of two births, of two swords, two realms, two laws, two cities, expresses the dangerous shadow behind the established substance. Theologically it can be seen as a perva sive reserve about the 'world', and sociologically as ...


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