P. G. Coleman, D. Koleva and J. Bornat, eds., Ageing, Ritual and Social
Change: Comparing the Secular and Religious in Eastern and Western
Europe. Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2013. Pp. xviii,
283. Pb. £19.99. ISBN 978-1-4094-5215-7.
This volume is a compelling and authoritative contribution to the literature
that seeks to understand our quest for meaning in later life. The twelve
essays, carefully organised and edited, make a significant contribution to
our understanding of the nature of ageing in human society and within
two different areas of Europe. The technical nature of this writing may
make the book over-specialised for the general reader, but its findings
have significant implications for our understanding of religion and its
practices in Europe today.
In a variety of ways, we are asked to consider whether and in what
way religion might contribute to our well-being, particularly in old age.
We are encouraged to reflect on this intriguing question by a rich variety
of shared narratives that offer the reader insight into the ways in which
value and belief enable individuals and communities to live through
the physical processes of ageing. These discussions are contextualised
within the experience of rapid social change across Europe. A distinctive
feature of this book is that it offers a dialogue between the increasingly
secular culture of the UK and the more traditional religious communities
of former socialist countries where religion has a very different place
in family and community. We learn in these narratives of the essential
and existential support that religion provides to enable people to cope
with social loss and physical frailty. A picture emerges of how older
people play a role in the holding together of religious communities and
in transmitting the Christian faith to younger generations. As the interrelationship
between ageing, ritual and social change is examined, we note
the profound value of older people in religious communities and see how
religion can contribute to a good old age.
The book is organised into five sections. Section One offers a
background which includes an overview of ageing and ritual in Europe;
and a discussion of the methods of investigation and in particular oral
history. The largest section of the book (chapters 3–6) provides an analysis
of the major questions which underlie the research project behind the
book; the emergence of religiosity and non-religiosity in people’s lives;
personal explanations for engagement in ritual practice; and continuing
commitment to religious ritual in otherwise non-religious people. The
next two sections examine the role of religion in enabling adjustment to
ageing. This includes a focus on death and bereavement. The final section
of the book offers a discussion on what conclusions can be drawn from
the project. Throughout the book, there is meticulous documentation of
sources with a helpful set of appendices, bibliography and index.
Why, then, should the general reader of theology take notice of this?
In addressing issues of numerical decline, the Church often laments in
having to inhabit a demography of an ageing Church. It may follow that
many of our strategies (and the theologies that support them) promote
implicit and explicit ageism. This is serious for our understanding of age,
for older people and for our attitudes to them. This book and its findings
show us that it might be possible to hold together some inter-generational
equity whereby we might counteract negative stereotypes and the
marginalisation of our ageing congregations. Older people may be our
natural spiritual constituency and a vital part of sustaining the religious
and spiritual life of our communities.