Traditional and post-traditional societies: The implications for religious education

Document Type

Journal Article


School of Religious Education, Australian Catholic University


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences


School of International, Cultural and Community Studies / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts,Technology, Education and Communications




Hughes, P. (2002). Traditional and Post-traditional Societies:The Implications for Religious Education. Journal of Religious Education, 50(2), 30-36. Available here.


In the introduction to his book, Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics, the social theorist Anthony Giddens refers to the emergence of a post-traditional social order (1994, p. 5). He describes this order as one in which tradition changes its status, becoming open to 'interrogation or discourse'. Tradition becomes something which is 'decided about' (1994, p .6) rather than taken for granted. Part of this change to a post-traditional order is the expansion of what Giddens cans 'social reflexivity' in which individuals constantly engage their world, thinking through the options in an autonomous way and making choices about how they will live.

For Giddens, the emergence of a post-traditional social order since World War 11 sets the scene for politics in the Western world. It is a world in which political parties can no longer assume a core of unquestioning support. It is a world of 'manufactured uncertainty' in which the consequences of human actions can be profound, global and beyond our imagination, let alone our expectations, a world in which the 'givenness' of nature has largely disappeared

This article will argue that the emergence of a post-traditional social order has some profound consequences for the nature of religion. Religion has been closely allied with tradition. It has provided the foundations on which the traditions of societies have been built. In traditional societies, religions are owned by the society or by sub-sectors of it, providing the society or sector with its sense of reality and proscribing its fundamental values. In a post-traditional society, religions becomes sets of resources from which consumers pick and choose. The changes to the very nature of religion in a post-traditional social order may be of greater magnitude and with consequences more profound than any change since the Reformation. The consequences for religious education are equally significant. This paper will explore the nature of the changes and the implications for religious education.