From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Like most other sociologists of religion of his day, Peter L. Berger once predicted the all-encompassing secularization of the world. He has admitted to his own miscalculations about secularization, concluding that the existence of resurgent religiosity in the modernised world has proven otherwise. In The Desecularization of the World, he cites both Western academia and Western Europe itself as exceptions to the triumphant desecularization hypothesis: that these cultures have remained highly secularized despite the resurgence of religion in the rest of the world. Berger finds that his and most sociologists' misconsensus about secularisation may have been the result of their own bias as members of academia, which is a largely atheist concentration of people."--blurb to The Desecularization of the World (1999) by Peter L. Berger
Secularization or secularisation generally refers to the transformation by which a society migrates from close identification with religious institutions to a more separated relationship. It is also the name given to a general belief about history, namely that the development of society progresses toward modernization and lessening dependence on religion as religion loses its position of authority.
Secularization has many levels of meaning, both as a theory and a historical process. Social theorists such as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Max Weber, and Émile Durkheim, postulated that the modernization of society would include a decline in levels of religiosity. Study of this process seeks to determine the manner in which, or extent to which religious creeds, practices and institutions are losing their social significance (if at all).
The term also has additional meanings, primarily historical. Applied to church property, secularization involves the abandonment of goods by the church where it is sold to purchasers after the government seizes the property, which most commonly happens after reasonable negotiations and arrangements are made. In Catholic theology, the term can also denote the permission or authorization given for an individual (typically clergy, who become secular clergy) to live outside his or her religious colony (monastery), either for a fixed or permanent period.
Current issues in secularization
At present, secularization as understood in the West is being debated in the sociology of religion. In his works Legitimacy of the Modern Age (1966) and The Genesis of the Copernican World (1975), Hans Blumenberg has rejected the idea of a historical continuity - fundamental the so-called 'theorem of secularization'; the Modern age in his view represents an independent epoch opposed to Antiquity and the Middle Ages by a rehabilitation of human curiosity in reaction to theological absolutism. "Blumenberg targets Löwith's argument that progress is the secularization of Hebrew and Christian beliefs and argues to the contrary that the modern age, including its belief in progress, grew out of a new secular self-affirmation of culture against the Christian tradition." Wolfhart Pannenberg, a student of Löwith, has continued the debate against Blumenberg.
Proponents of "secularization theory" demonstrate widespread declines in the prevalence of religious belief throughout the West, particularly in Europe. Some scholars (e.g., Rodney Stark, Peter Berger) have argued that levels of religiosity are not declining, while other scholars (e.g., Mark Chaves, N. J. Demerath) have countered by introducing the idea of neo-secularization, which broadens the definition of secularization to include the decline of religious authority and its ability to influence society.
In other words, rather than using the proportion of irreligious apostates as the sole measure of secularity, neo-secularization argues that individuals increasingly look outside of religion for authoritative positions. Neo-secularizationists would argue that religion has diminishing authority on issues such as birth control, and argue that religion's authority is declining and secularization is taking place even if religious affiliation may not be declining in the United States (a debate still taking place).
Finally, some claim that demographic forces offset the process of secularization, and may do so to such an extent that individuals can consistently drift away from religion even as society becomes more religious. This is especially the case in societies like Israel (with the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionists) where committed religious groups have several times the birth rate of seculars. The religious fertility effect operates to a greater or lesser extent in all countries, and is amplified in the West by religious immigration. For instance, even as native whites became more secular, London, England, has become more religious in the past 25 years as religious immigrants and their descendants have increased their share of the population.
- Secular state
- Sociology of religion
- Theory of religious economy
- Rational choice theory of religion
- The Enlightenment
- Mexican secularization act of 1833