Implicit Religion, Vol 15, No 4 (2012)

Theorizing the Sacred: The Role of the Implicit in Yearning “Away”

Paul Heelas
Issued Date: 19 Feb 2013


Existentially, what is it to live within the secular without the sacred? In the absence of religion, can secular frames of reference provide worthwhile sources of significance? For Charles Taylor, “religious longing, the longing for and response to a more-than-immanent transformation perspective … remains a strong independent source of motivation in modernity.” In line with this contention, I argue that the secular is frequently taken to be inadequate: to self-deflate. This essay applies a range of arguments: the role played by ideals, the implicit, the yearning emanating from the imperfect (that is, the secular frame of reference); and the roles played by what the perfect (that is, the sacred) has to promise. Rather than being some kind of end-point (self-sustaining, self-containing, self-limiting), the secular frame of reference readily generates momentum towards, sometimes into, the “truly” perfect. The notion of “a secular age” has to be qualified.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/imre.v15i4.477


Bailey, E. I. 1997. Implicit Religion in Contemporary Society. Kampen: Kok Pharos.
Barker, E. 2004. “The Church Without and the God Within: Religiosity and/or Spirituality?” In Religion and Patterns of Social Transformation, edited by D. Marinovic, S. Zrinscak and I. Borowik, 23–47. Zagreb: Institute for Social Research.
Bell, D. 1977. “The Return of the Sacred? The Argument on the Future of Religion.” British Journal of Sociology 28(4): 419–449.
Berger, P. L. 1999. “The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview.” In The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics, edited by P. L. Berger, 1–18 Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Berkowitz, P. 1995. Nietzsche. The Ethics of an Immoralist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Borg, M. B. ter 2004. “Some Ideas on Wild Religion.” Implicit Religion 7(2): 108–119.
Browning, G. 2004. “How to … Yearn.” The Guardian Weekend, Saturday 6 November.
Campbell, C. 2008. The Easternization of the West. Boulder: Paradigm.
Chesterton, G. K. 2010. What’s Wrong with the World. London: Forgotten Books.
Christiano, K. J. 2007. “Assessing Modernities: From ‘Pre-’ to ‘Post-’ to ‘Ultra’.” In The Sage Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, edited by J. A. Beckford and N. J. Demerath, 39–56. London: Sage.
Durkheim, E. 1971 [orig. 1912]. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: George Allen & Unwin.
Field, C. D. 2012. In British Religion in Numbers.
Grunfeld, F. V. 1979. Prophets Without Honour: A Background to Freud Kafka Einstein and Their World. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
Hay, D. 2012. “The Spirituality of Adults in Britain. Recent Research.” In Spirituality in the Modern World. Within Religious Tradition and Beyond, Volume I, edited by P. Heelas, 361–370. London: Routledge.
Heelas, P. 1996. The New Age Movement. Oxford: Blackwell.
———. 2002. “The Spiritual Revolution: From ‘Religion’ to ‘Spirituality’.” In Religions in the Modern World, edited by L. Woodhead, P. Fletcher, H. Kawanami and D. Smith, 357–377. London: Routledge.
———. 2006. “The Infirmity Debate: On the Viability of New Age Spiritualities of Life.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 21(2): 223–240.
———. 2007. “The Holistic Milieu and Spirituality: Reflections on Voas and Bruce.” In A Sociology of Spirituality, edited by K. Flanagan and P. C. Jupp, 63–80. Aldershot: Ashgate.
———. 2008. Spiritualities of Life: New Age Romanticism and Consumptive Capitalism. Oxford: Blackwell.
———. 2012a. “On Making Some Sense of Spirituality.” In Spirituality in the Modern World. Within Religious Tradition and Beyond. Volume I, edited by P. Heelas, 3–37. London: Routledge.
———. 2012b. “‘New Age’ Spirituality as ‘Tradition’ of Healthcare.” In Spirituality in Healthcare, edited by M. Cobb, C. Puchalski and B. Rumbold, 69–76. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Reprinted in Spirituality in the Modern World. Within Religious Tradition and Beyond, Volume I, edited by P. Heelas, 252–270. London: Routledge.
———. 2012c. “On Some Significant Themes.” In Spirituality in the Modern World. Within Religious Tradition and Beyond. Volume I, edited by P. Heelas, 69–92. London: Routledge.
———. 2012d. “On Some Major Issues.” In Spirituality in the Modern World. Within Religious Tradition and Beyond. Volume I, edited by P. Heelas, 38–68. London: Routledge.
——— and D. Houtman 2012. “Research Note: RAMP Findings and Making Sense of the ‘God Within Each Person, Rather than Out There’.” In Spirituality in the Modern World. Within Religious Tradition and Beyond. Volume I, edited by P. Heelas, 371–398. London: Routledge.
———. In press. “Interpretations of the Sacred: Inner-Life Spirituality and Theistic Tradition.” New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion, edited by S. J. Sutcliffe and I. S. Gilhus. Sheffield: Equinox.
Houtman, D., P. Heelas and P. Achterberg. 2012. “Counting Spirituality? Survey Methodology after the Spiritual Turn.” In Annual Review of the
Sociology of Religion, Volume Three: New Methods in the Sociology of
Religion, edited by L. Berzano and O. Riis, 25–44. Leiden: Brill.
Hunt, K. 2003. “Understanding the Spirituality of People who Do Not Go to Church.” In Predicting Religion, edited by G. Davie, P. Heelas and L. Woodhead, 159–169. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Hunter, J. D. 2009. “Nihilism.” Culture Fall Issue: 17. Virginia: University of Virginia.
Illouz, E. 2012. Why Love Hurts. Cambridge: Polity.
Inglehart, R. 1990. Cultural Shift in Advanced Industrial Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
———., M. Basanez, J. Diez-Medrano, L. Halman and R. Luijkx, eds. 2004. Human Beliefs and Values. A Cross-Cultural Sourcebook based on the 1999–2002 World Surveys. Mexico: Siglo XXI Editores.
———. and C. Welzel. 2005. Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
James, W. 1974 [orig. 1902]. The Varieties of Religious Experience. London: Collins.
Jasper, D. 2004. The Sacred Desert. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Kemp. D. 2003. The Christaquarians: A Sociology of Christians in the New Age. London: BookSurge.
Kovel, J. 1978. A Complete Guide to Therapy, London: Penguin.
Mannheim, K. 1936 [orig. 1929]. Ideology and Utopia. London: Routledge.
Needham, R. 1972. Belief, Language, Experience. Oxford: Blackwell.
Nietzsche, F. 1974. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. London: Penguin.
Pascal, B. 1931. Pensées of Blaise Pascal. London: J. M. Dent and Sons.
Passmore, J. 1970. The Perfectibility of Man. London: Duckworth.
Roszak, T. 1976. Unfinished Animal. The Aquarian Frontier and the Evolution of Consciousness. London: Faber and Faber.
Russell, B. 1975. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. London: Unwin Books.
Simmel, G. 1997. Essays on Religion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Smart, J. J. C. 1996. “Reply to Haldane.” In Atheism and Theism, edited by J. J. C. Smart and J. J. Haldane, 168–189. Oxford: Blackwell.
Smith, T. W. 2012. “Beliefs about God across Time and Countries.” In British Religion in Numbers,
Stevens, W. 2006. Collected Poems. London: Faber and Faber.
Tallis, R. 2011. Michelangelo’s Finger. An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence. London: Atlantic Books.
Tanesini, A. 2009. “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.” Times Higher Education, 3 December, p. 49.
Tarkovsky, A. 1989. Sculpting In Time. Dallas: University of Texas Press.
Taylor, C. 2007. A Secular Age. London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Thompson, J. and P. Heelas. 1988. The Way of the Heart: The Rajneesh Movement. San Bernardino: Borgo Press.
Tolstoy, Leo. 2008 [orig.1882]. My Confession. London: Penguin.
Voas, D. 2009. “The Rise and Fall of Fuzzy Fidelity in Europe.” European Sociological Review 25(2): 155–168.
———. and A. Crockett. 2005. “Religion in Britain: Neither Believing nor Belonging.” Sociology 39(1): 11–28.
———. and S. Bruce. 2007. “The Spiritual Revolution: Another False Dawn for the Sacred.” In A Sociology of Spirituality, edited by K. Flanagan and P. C. Jupp, 43–61. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Weber, M. 1946 [orig. 1919]. “Science as a Vocation.” In From Max Weber. Essays in Sociology, edited by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, 129–156. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Westley, F. 1983. The Complex Forms of the Religious Life. Chico: Scholars Press.
Wilkins, E. 1960. “Foreword” to R. Musil The Man Without Qualities, vii-xi. London: Secker & Warburg.
Ziolkwoski, T. 2007. Modes of Faith: Secular Surrogates for Lost Religious Belief. Chicago. IL: Chicago University Press.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy