Since the seventeenth century, Western culture has been undergoing what historians and sociologists call secularization, the process via which religious institutions lose more and more of their power in society.
Whereas Western society was once held together by the Christian Church, it is now held together by the rational procedures dictated by modern capitalism. But the rules of capitalism, whether ultimately helpful or harmful to our society's development, are not values or spiritual principles. Instead, they are simply technical dicta about the most efficient means to an economic end. One visible aspect of the process of secularization is the weakening, and perhaps eventual withering away, of traditional religious institutions. This process is already fully visible in Western Europe, and is evident, on a more subterranean level, in American society as well. Secularization threatens to "disenchant" the world (Max Weber), to cut us off from the sense of the sacred and of Mystery. But the withering of the old religious institutions does not mean that religion and spirituality themselves will simply disappear. Rather, they can take on new forms, as is evident in the New Age movement in American society. Yet, there is a difficulty with New Age sorts of spiritualities when compared with the old-time religion: these new spiritualities tend to be very individualistic, if not idiosyncratic. Sociologists point out that our spiritual practices will never appear fully real to us unless they have inter-subjective validity, unless they are supported by a social "plausibility structure" (Peter Berger). That is, my view of the world has the aura of reality as long as most of the people around meacknowledge that view and reinforce it.
But individualistic New Age pieties seem to have no such social reinforcement underpinning them. Hence the central argument of To Re-Enchant the World: the Unitarian Universalist community accomplishes the unique task of re-enchanting the world by bringing a host of individual spiritualities into a single community where all of them are affirmed and thus granted social plausibility. The U.U. community, then, is a particularly powerful site for the re-enchantment of the world: it puts us back in touch with the sacred and with what the book labels the Mysterious Depth of reality. While Unitarian Universalists can bring many different spiritual ways into the U.U. community, five are analyzed in depth in the book, namely, humanism, a focus on nature, engagement with the arts, commitment to social justice, and devotion to a Source/Creative Abyss of the universe. The book also considers rituals common to the U.U. community and the experience of sacred space, sacred time, and sacred word in that community. Finally, To Re-Enchant the World makes some predictions about the future of Unitarian Universalism and even touches on the delicate issue of U.U. proselytizing. The book as a whole attempts to present a philosophical analysis of Unitarian Universalism that draws upon the most important intellectual currents in contemporary Western culture. The book operates with the conviction that while other American religious denominations can have their "systematic theologies," there is no reason why Unitarian Universalists cannot have philosophies of U.U. pluralism.