For other uses, see Secularization (church property), Secularity, Secularism, and Secular (disambiguation).
Secularization (or secularisation) is the transformation of a society from close identification and affiliation with religious values and institutions toward nonreligious values and secular institutions. The secularization thesis refers to the belief that as societies progress, particularly through modernization and rationalization, religion loses its authority in all aspects of social life and governance. The term secularization is also used in the context of the lifting of the monastic restrictions from a member of the clergy.
Secularization refers to the historical process in which religion loses social and cultural significance. As a result of secularization the role of religion in modern societies becomes restricted. In secularized societies faith lacks cultural authority, and religious organizations have little social power.
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 social significance. Some theorists argue that the secularization of modern civilization partly results from our inability to adapt broad ethical and spiritual needs of mankind to the increasingly fast advance of the physical sciences.
The term also has additional meanings, primarily historical and religious. Applied to church property, historically it refers to the seizure of monastic lands and buildings, such as Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in England and the later acts during the French Revolution as well as by various anti-clerical European governments during the 18th and 19th centuries, which resulted in the expulsion and suppression of the religious communities which occupied them. The 19th-century Kulturkampf in Germany and Switzerland and similar events in many other countries also were expressions of secularization.
Still another form of Secularization refers to the act of Prince-Bishops or holders of a position in a Monastic or Military Order - holding a combined religious and secular authority under the Catholic Church - who broke away and made themselves into completely secular (typically, Protestant) hereditary rulers. For example, Gotthard von Kettler, the last Master of the Livonian Order, converted to Lutheranism, secularised (and took to himself) the lands of Semigallia and Courland which he had held on behalf of the order - which enabled him to marry and leave to his descendants the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia.
In the 1960s there was a shift toward secularization in Western Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. This transformation was intertwined with major social factors: economic prosperity, youth rebelling against the rules and conventions of society, women's liberation, radical theology, and radical politics.
Secularization is sometimes credited both to the cultural shifts in society following the emergence of rationality and the development of science as a substitute for superstition—Max Weber called this process the "disenchantment of the world"—and to the changes made by religious institutions to compensate. At the most basic stages, this begins with a slow transition from oral traditions to a writing culture that diffuses knowledge. This first reduces the authority of clerics as the custodians of revealed knowledge. As the responsibility for education has moved from the family and community to the state, two consequences have arisen:
- Collective conscience as defined by Durkheim is diminished
- Fragmentation of communal activities leads to religion becoming more a matter of individual choice rather than an observed social obligation.
A major issue in the study of secularization is the extent to which certain trends such as decreased attendance at places of worship indicate a decrease in religiosity or simply a privatization of religious belief, where religious beliefs no longer play a dominant role in public life or in other aspects of decision making.
The issue of secularization is discussed in various religious traditions. The government of Turkey is an often cited[by whom?] example, following the abolition of the OttomanCaliphate and foundation of the Turkish republic in 1923. This established popular sovereignty in a secular republican framework, in opposition to a system whose authority is based on religion. As one of many examples of state modernization, this shows secularization and democratization as mutually reinforcing processes, relying on a separation of religion and state. In expressly secular states like India, it has been argued[by whom?] that the need was to legislate for toleration and respect between quite different religions, and likewise, the secularization of the West was a response to drastically violent intra-Christian feuds between Catholicism and Protestantism. Some[who?] have therefore argued that Western and Indian secularization is radically different in that it deals with autonomy from religious regulation and control. Considerations of both tolerance and autonomy are relevant to any secular state.
C. John Sommerville (1998) outlined six uses of the term secularization in the scientific literature. The first five are more along the lines of 'definitions' while the sixth is more of a 'clarification of use':
- When discussing macro social structures, secularization can refer to differentiation: a process in which the various aspects of society, economic, political, legal, and moral, become increasingly specialized and distinct from one another.
- When discussing individual institutions, secularization can denote the transformation of a religious into a secular institution. Examples would be the evolution of institutions such as Harvard University from a predominantly religious institution into a secular institution (with a divinity school now housing the religious element illustrating differentiation).
- When discussing activities, secularization refers to the transfer of activities from religious to secular institutions, such as a shift in provision of social services from churches to the government.
- When discussing mentalities, secularization refers to the transition from ultimate concerns to proximate concerns. E.g., individuals in the West are now more likely to moderate their behavior in response to more immediately applicable consequences rather than out of concern for post-mortem consequences. This is a personal religious decline or movement toward a secular lifestyle.
- When discussing populations, secularization refers to broad patterns of societal decline in levels of religiosity as opposed to the individual-level secularization of (4) above. This understanding of secularization is also distinct from (1) above in that it refers specifically to religious decline rather than societal differentiation.
- When discussing religion, secularization can only be used unambiguously to refer to religion in a generic sense. For example, a reference to Christianity is not clear unless one specifies exactly which denominations of Christianity are being discussed.
Abdel Wahab Elmessiri (2002) outlined two meanings of the term secularization:
- Partial Secularization: which is the common meaning of the word, and expresses "The separation between religion and state".
- Complete Secularization: this definition is not limited to the partial definition, but exceeds it to "The separation between all (religion, moral, and human) values, and (not just the state) but also to (the human nature in its public and private sides), so that the holiness is removed from the world, and this world is transformed into a usable matter that can be employed for the sake of the strong".
Sociological use and differentiation
As studied by sociologists, one of the major themes of secularization is that of "differentiation"—i.e., the tendency for areas of life to become more distinct and specialized as a society becomes modernized. European sociology, influenced by anthropology, was interested in the process of change from the so-called primitive societies to increasingly advanced societies. In the United States, the emphasis was initially on change as an aspect of progress, but Talcott Parsons refocused on society as a system immersed in a constant process of increased differentiation, which he saw as a process in which new institutions take over the tasks necessary in a society to guarantee its survival as the original monolithic institutions break up. This is a devolution from single, less differentiated institutions to an increasingly differentiated subset of institutions.
Following Parsons, this concept of differentiation has been widely applied. As phrased by Jose Casanova, this "core and the central thesis of the theory of secularization is the conceptualization of the process of societal modernization as a process of functional differentiation and emancipation of the secular spheres—primarily the state, the economy, and science—from the religious sphere and the concomitant differentiation and specialization of religion within its own newly found religious sphere". Casanova also describes this as the theory of "privatization" of religion, which he partially criticizes. While criticizing certain aspects of the traditional sociological theory of secularization, however, David Martin argues that the concept of social differentiation has been its "most useful element".
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.
Charles Taylor in "A Secular Age" challenges what he calls 'the subtraction thesis' – that science leads to religion being subtracted from more and more areas of life.
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.
In Britain, secularization came much later than in most of Western Europe. It began in the 1960s as part of a much larger social and cultural revolution. Until then the postwar years had seen a revival of religiosity in Britain. Sociologists and historians have engaged in vigorous debates over when it started, how fast it happened, and what caused it.
Sponsorship by royalty, aristocracy, and influential local gentry provided an important support-system for organized religion. The sponsorship faded away in the 20th century, as the local élites were no longer so powerful or so financially able to subsidize their favourite activities. In coal-mining districts, local collieries typically funded local chapels, but that ended[when?] as the industry grew distressed and the unionized miners rejected élite interference in their local affairs. This allowed secularizing forces to gain strength.
Data from the annual British Social Attitudes survey and the biennial European Social Survey suggest that the proportion of Britons who identify as Christian fell from 55% (in 1983) to 43% (in 2015). While members of non-Christian religions – principally Muslims and Hindus – quadrupled, the non-religious ("nones") now make up 53% of the British population. Interestingly, more than six in 10 “nones” were brought up as Christians, mainly Anglican or Catholic. Only 2% of “nones” were raised in religions other than Christian.
People who were brought up to practise a religion, but who now identifies as having no religion, so-called "non-verts", had different "non-version" rates, namely 14% for Jews, 10% for Muslims and Sikhs and 6% for Hindus. The proportions of the non-religious who convert to a faith are small: 3% now identify as Anglicans, less than 0.5% convert to Catholicism, 2% join other Christian denominations and 2% convert to non-Christian faiths.
Hinduism, which is the dominant way of life in India, has been described as a 'culture and civilisation of ancient origin' that is 'intrinsically secular'.India, post-independence, has seen the emergence of an assertive secular state.
One traditional view of Chinese culture sees the teachings of Confucianism - influential over many centuries - as basically secular.
Chang Pao-min summarises perceived historical consequences of very early secularization in China:
The early secularization of Chinese society, which must be recognized as a sign of modernity [...] has ironically left China for centuries without a powerful and stable source of morality and law. All this simply means that the pursuit of wealth or power or simply the competition for survival can be and often has been ruthless without any sense of restraint. [...] Along with the early secularization of Chinese society which was equally early, the concomitant demise of feudalism and hereditary aristocracy, another remarkable development, transformed China earlier than any other country into a unitary system politically, with one single power centre. It also rendered Chinese society much more egalitarian than Western Europe and Japan.
In this arguably secular setting, the Chinese Communist Party régime of the People's Republic of China (in power on the Chinese mainland from 1949) promoted deliberate secularization.
Many countries in the Arab world show signs of increasing secularization. For instance, in Egypt, support for imposing sharia (Islamic law) fell from 84% in 2011 to 34% in 2016. Egyptians also pray less: among older Egyptians (55+) 90% prayed daily in 2011. Among the younger generation (age 18-24) that fraction was only 70%. By contrast, in 2016 these numbers had fallen to <80% (55+) and <40% (18-24). The other age groups were in between these values. In Lebanon and Morocco, the number of people listening to daily recitals of the quran fell by half from 2011 to 2016. Some of these developments seem to be driven by need, e.g. by stagnating incomes which force women to contribute to household income and therefore to work. High living costs delay marriage and, as a consequence, seem to encourage pre-marital sex. However, in other countries, such als Algeria, Jordan, and Palestine, support for sharia and islamist ideas seems to grow. Even in countries in which secularization is growing, there are backlashes. For instance, the president of Egypt, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, has banned hundreds of newspapers and websites who may provoke opposition.
- ^See occurrences on Google Books.
- ^ ab"The Secularization Debate", chapter 1 (pp. 3-32) of Norris, Pippa; Inglehart, Ronald (2004). Sacred and Secular. Religion and Politics Worldwide. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-83984-X; ISBN 978-05-2183-984-6.
- ^See text
- ^Casanova, Jose (1994). Public Religions in the Modern World. University of Chicago Press, pg. 13. ISBN 0-226-09535-5
- ^Gould, Andrew in: Origins of Liberal Dominance: State, Church, and Party in Nineteenth-century Europe, University of Michigan Press, 1999, p. 82, ISBN 978-0-472-11015-5
- ^Jeffrey Cox, "Secularization and other master narratives of religion in modern Europe." Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte (2001): 24-35.
- ^Somerville, C. J. "Secular Society Religious Population: Our Tacit Rules for Using the Term Secularization. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37 (2):249-53. (1998)
- ^Martin, David (2005). On Secularization: Toward a Revised General Theory. Ashgate Publishing Company, p. 20. ("Parsons saw differentiation as the separating out of each social sphere from ecclesiastical control: the state, science, and the market, but also law, welfare, and education etc.")
- ^Casanova, Jose (1994). Public Religions in the Modern World. University of Chicago Press, p. 19. ISBN 0-226-09535-5 ("Only in the 1980s, after the sudden eruption of religion into the public sphere, did it become obvious that differentiation and the loss of societal functions do not necessarily entail 'privatization.'")
- ^Martin, p. 20.
- ^Buller, Cornelius A. (1996). The Unity of Nature and History in Pannenberg's Theology. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 95. ISBN 0-822-63055-9; ISBN 978-08-2263-055-5.
- ^Pannenberg, Wolfhart (1973). "Christianity as the Legitimacy of the Modern Age (1968)". The Idea of God and Human Freedom, Volume 3. London: Westminster Press. pp. 178–191. ISBN 0-664-20971-8; ISBN 978-06-6420-971-1.
- ^Bruce, Steve. God is Dead: Secularization in the West. (2002)
- ^Kaufmann, Eric. 2011. Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century. London: Profile Books. Also see www.sneps.net.
- ^Callum G. Brown, The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation, 1800-2000 (2009) pp 170-92.
- ^Jeremy Morris, "Secularization and religious experience: arguments in the historiography of modern British religion." Historical Journal 55#1 (2012): 195-219.
- ^Steve Bruce, "Patronage and secularization: social obligation and church support Patronage and secularization: social obligation and church support," British Journal of Sociology (2012) 63#3 pp 533-552.
- ^"A majority of Britons now follow no religion". The Economist. 9 Sep 2017.
- ^ abSherwood, Harriet; correspondent, religion (2017-05-13). "Nearly 50% are of no religion – but has UK hit 'peak secular'?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
- ^"Hinduism is intrinsically secular". www.sunday-guardian.com. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
- ^Galanter, Marc. "Hinduism, Secularism, and the Indian Judiciary". Philosophy East and West. 21.
- ^Berger, Peter (2012-02-15). "Is Confucianism a Religion?". The American Interest. The American Interest LLC. ISSN 1556-5777. Retrieved 2016-03-03.
- ^Chang, Pao-min (1999). "Corruption and Crime in China: Old Problems and New trends". The Journal of East Asian Affairs. Institute for National Security Strategy. 13 (1, Spring/Summer): 223. ISSN 1010-1608. JSTOR 23257220. quoted in: Bao-Er (2007). China's Child Contracts: A philosophy of child rights in twenty-first century China. Blaxland, New South Wales: The Blue Mountains Legal Research Centre. p. 43. ISBN 9781921300561. Retrieved 2016-03-03.
- ^See for example: Marsh, Christopher (2011). "Introduction: From Forced Secularization to Desecularization". Religion and the State in Russia and China: Suppression, Survival, and Revival. A&C Black. p. 10. ISBN 9781441112477. Retrieved 2016-03-03.
- ^ abc"The new Arab Cosmopolitans". The Economist. 4 Nov 2017.
- Berger, Peter. The Sacred Canopy. (1967)
- Berger, Peter. The Desecularization of the World. (1999)
- Brown, Callum G. The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation, 1800-2000 (2009).
- Bruce, Steve, and Tony Glendinning, "When was secularization? Dating the decline of the British churches and locating its cause" British journal of sociology 61#1 (2010): 107-126.
- Bruce, Steve. Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults
- Bruce, Steve. God is Dead: Secularization in the West. (2002)
- Casanova, Jose. Public Religions in the Modern World. (1994)
- Chaves, M. Secularization As Declining Religious Authority. Social Forces 72(3):749–74. (1994)
- Ellul, Jacques. The New Demons. (1973/tr. 1975)
- Gauchet, Marcel. The Disenchantment of the World. (1985/tr. 1997)
- Gilbert, Alan D. The making of post-Christian Britain: a history of the secularization of modern society (Longman, 1980).
- Martin, David. A General Theory of Secularization. (New York: Harper & Row, 1979).
- Sommerville, C. J. "Secular Society Religious Population: Our Tacit Rules for Using the Term Secularization. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37#2 :249–53. (1998)
- Said, E. Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. London: Penguin. (1978).
- Skolnik, Jonathan and Peter Eli Gordon, eds., New German Critique 94 (2005) Special Issue on Secularization and Disenchantment
- Stark, Rodney, Laurence R. Iannaccone, Monica Turci, and Marco Zecchi. "How Much Has Europe Been Secularized?" Inchiesta 32 #136 pp:99–112. (2002)
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The assumptions of secularization theory were a major component in the classical approaches of sociology. Works from the classic figures of sociology—from Comte 1875–1877, through Durkheim 2008 (originally 1893), Tönnies 2001 (originally 1887), Weber 1980 (originally 1920), Parsons 1966, and Berger 1967, to Luhmann 1977—assumed a sharp break between traditional and modern societies, so that we can, indeed, claim without exaggeration that sociology emerged as an academic discipline to deal scientifically with the political, economic, and social processes of upheaval in the 19th century. If the classic figures of sociology argued from the perspective of secularization theory, then they did so partly because they saw in the marginalization of religion a central feature of these processes of upheaval, but also because the decline of religion illustrated and reflected particularly well the full drama of these processes.
Berger, Peter L. 1967. The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociological theory of religion. New York: Doubleday.
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In contrast to his later work, Berger’s early work adopts positions representing secularization theory, and these had a great influence on debates in the sociology of religion. On the one hand, the early Berger traces secularization back to the increasing pluralization of the religious field. With the pluralization of religious offerings, religious practices and beliefs have lost their status as taken-for-granted certainties and are exposed to mutual contestation and relativization. On the other hand, Berger holds long-term processes responsible for secularization, such as the rationalization that has been effective since ancient Judaism, as well as the erosive effects of industrialization and mechanization. Republished as recently as 1990 (New York: Anchor).
Comte, Auguste. 1875–1877. System of positive polity. 4 vols. Translated by J. H. Bridges, Frederick Harrison, E. S. Beesly, R. Congreve, and H. D. Hutton. Books for College Libraries. London: Longmans, Green.
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In this work, Comte developed his now-well-known “law of three stages,” according to which human history passes through three phases. In the “theological” or “fictitious” phase, we write in an attempt to explain our environment, the causes of the phenomena of higher beings that surround us and that act much like ourselves. In the “metaphysical” phase, we draw not on fictitious, but on abstract, entities to explain things. In the “positive” phase, we understand phenomena in the way that they really are. The development of the human spirit is therefore characterized by the steady elimination of all excesses of fantasy and the increasing dominance of the mind. Originally published in 1851–1854; republished as recently as 2001 (Bristol, UK: Thoemmes).
Durkheim, Émile. 1995. The elementary forms of the religious life. Translated and introduced by Karen E. Fields. New York: Free Press.
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In contrast, the late Durkheim shows that every society, including the modern, has a religious dimension. Not only are almost all major institutions of society born from religion, but also the most-important aspects of collective life are, actually, nothing but different aspects of religious life—precisely because the idea of society is the soul of religion. Therefore, when man worships God in a religious cult, then society is worshipping itself in him. Originally published in 1912 (New York: Macmillan).
Durkheim, Émile. 2008. The division of labor in society. Translated by Wilfred D. Halls. New York: Free Press.
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The early Durkheim assumes an increasing loss of function of religion in the course of social evolution. While religion at the beginning of history extended to everything social, the political, economic, and scientific functions have gradually separated themselves from the religious function and have taken on an increasingly secular character. For Durkheim, it becomes problematic how the integration of society once guaranteed by religion can be ensured by modern society. First, Durkheim points out that the exchange between the functions made necessary by functional differentiation can itself provide social solidarity. Second, to solve the problem, Durkheim also draws on moral ideas, such as the cult of the individual uniting society. Originally published in French as De la division du travail social in 1893 (Paris: F. Alcan).
Luhmann, Niklas. 1977. Funktion der Religion. Theorie. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
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Luhmann argues that, through the conversion of the primary form of social differentiation that accompanies the formation of modern society from stratification to functional differentiation, the possibilities and the need to provide socially binding semantics and structures decline. For religion, that means on the personal level that what someone believes becomes a matter of personal choice. On the social level, it means that it is no longer values and norms binding the whole of society that guarantee social integration. On the world pictorial-cognitive level, it means the widening of the horizon of the socially ascertainable, so that religious forms of meaning increasingly lose their plausibility. Reprinted as recently as 2009.
Parsons, Talcott. 1966. Religion in a modern pluralistic society. Review of Religious Research 7.3: 125–146.
DOI: 10.2307/3509920E-mail Citation »
Parsons argues that Christian values become diffuse, and therefore generalized, in modern society, and that a rejection of traditional religious organizations, a retreat of the religious into the private sphere, and an increasing laicization of the population have come about due to the emancipation of the “societal system” from religion (p. 145). Available online for purchase or by subscription.
Tönnies, Ferdinand. 2001. Community and civil society. Edited by José Harris. Translated by José Harris and Margaret Hollis. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
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Tönnies examines the tense relationship between community and society, which he treats as opposites. He understands the history of society as a development from straightforward forms of community, formed by coherence and direct interaction, to market-driven society. His distinction between community and society was very influential, being picked up by, for example, Talcott Parsons in his notion of pattern variables, and by Bryan Wilson in his identification of the differences between modern and premodern societies. Originally published in German as Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft in 1887 (Leipzig: Fues).
Weber, Max. 1980. Religious rejections of the world and their directions. In From Max Weber: Essays in sociology. Edited and translated by Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, 323–359. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
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The decline in the social significance of religion in modern societies leads Weber to differentiate between the various spheres of value that compete with religious behavior, and to deal with processes of demystification and rationalization. Weber notes, however, not only a decline in the importance of religion in the modern world, but also, accompanying its marginalization, a transformation of religion from the rational power that it once was to the “irrational or anti-rational power par excellence.” At the same time, Weber emphasizes the religious roots of the rise of the modern bourgeois world. Originally published in 1920.