Soc 461/561

Lecture 15:  Secularization Debated and Revised

April 30, 1999



Bryan Wilson—"Secularization: The Inherited Model"

What is secularization? "the process whereby religious thinking, practice and institutions lose social significance."

Premise: "increasing dominance of scientific, technical, & practical over emotional & moral" (18).

Two challenges to premise

  1. feminist ; &,
  2. twentieth century morally based social movements.

Distinction between "secularization" and "secularism":

  1. "Secularization": analytic, descriptive term;
  2. "Secularism": ideology employed to promote religion’s decline.

Essence of Secularization: "a process of transfer of property, power, activities, and both manifest and latent functions, from institutions with a supernaturalist frame of reference to (often new) institutions operating according to empirical, rational, pragmatic criteria."

What secularization model doesn’t do: specify pace or details of process. Nor does it claim religion will completely disappear.

What it does claim: religion’s social influence will decline (see pp. 14-15 for nutshell)



Berger: "From Crisis of Religion to Crisis of Secularity

Thesis: in addition to a crisis of religious meaning there is also a crisis of secular meaning. Crisis of secularity consists in difficulty modern secularity has in providing an "anthropodicy"

Modern secularity is only one view among others.

"Knowledge class" as carriers of modern secularity.

Problematic: "passage from religious pluralism to moral pluralism."

Main point: moral pluralism challenges moral cohesion of society.

Claim: religion, & moral consensus only religion can foster, is necessary to society’s political & sociological health.

Critique of Berger:

1) His position is ultimately ambiguous because it posits a unitary moral consensus underlying a cultural free market marked by denominational civility instead of ravaged by the moral relativism he wants very much to avoid.

2) He doesn’t demonstrate religion is sole source of "a binding common morality."

Berger’s self-described "Big Mistake" and Berger’s "Big Insight"

  1. mistake: to believe that modernity necessarily leads to religoiusdecline
  2. insight: moral pluralism undermines taken for grantedness of beliefs & values.

Casanova: "Secularization, Enlightenment, & Modern Religion"

Three key meanings secularization:

  1. contemporary secular age;
  2. withdrawing from cloister/monastery into world; &,
  3. historical process by which monasteries, landholdings & wealth of religious institutions is transferred from church to state after Protestant Reformation.

Secularization as concept: break down of dualistic world view of "this world" & "the other world."

Central thesis of secularization theory: modernization as process of functional differentiation & emancipation of secular spheres—primarily state, economy, & science—from religious sphere & subsequent differentiation & specialization of religion in its own sphere, i.e., the differentiation thesis.

Two subtheses: decline & privatization.

Three phases of "capitalist secularization":

  1. "Puritan phase";
  2. "utilitarian"; &
  3. "postmodern colonial."

Western Europe offers empirical evidence of decline but United States offers evidence of growth.

How is this contrast to be explained? American religion is so secularized that it really isn’t religion & America is an exception that confirms the European rule.

What really needs explanation, according to Casanova, is refusal of Europeans & social scientists to take seriously counterevidence in America.

Privatization Thesis:

  1. as alternative interpretations of life emerge, religious world views tend to be seen as merely subjective;
  2. religious institutions are de-politicized as result of functional differentiation of society;
  3. questions about and quests for meaning & salvation withdraws into private sphere; &,
  4. modern societies no longer need to be "moral communities unified by a commonly shared system of practices and beliefs" (37).

Critique of Privatization thesis: privatization thesis becomes problematic when "turned into a prescriptive normative theory of how religious institutions ought to behave."

Three key elements of Enlightenment critique of religion:

  1. "cognitive critique of traditional world views" associated with the rise of science;
  2. "moral … critique of religious ideologies of legitimation" aimed at unholy alliances between throne & altar; &,
  3. "subjective-expressive [i.e., romantic] critique of religious asceticism & alienation" (Casanova 1994: 30-35, 233).

"Public religions" represent new forms of social criticism of modern world which "presuppose … individual freedoms & differentiated structures" (Casanova 1994: 38, 214-215, 220-222).

It is not that religions should have prime role in integrating society morally. Casanova argues, rather, that religions should be permitted—in public square—to call into question pretensions of modern state & economy to function without regard to moral norms or human & environmental considerations (Casanova 1994: 43).

Most important: in order to be in position to contribute effectively to revitalization of public culture, religions have to incorporate Enlightenment critique of tradition & abide by "sacred values of modernity, that is, human life and freedom" (Casanova 1994: 223, 233).