The Cracks in Secularization

Issue 1810

4 October 2018

One speaks today of two sociological categories, of which the second, desecularization, indicates the overcoming of the first, secularization. The theory of secularization appeared at the beginning of the 1900s on the basis of the thought of Auguste Comte, Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, and has dominated the analysis of religion in the Western world. It is founded on the thesis that the processes of modernization and development of the experimental sciences and technology inevitably bring about the rise of atheistic or religiously neutral societies.

Beginning in the 1990s, Peter Ludwig Berger, followed by many other sociologists, philosophers of religion, anthropologists and historians of ideas, began to criticize the validity of the theory of secularization, moved by a greater interest in the various forms of religion and the growing importance of religious issues in the public sector.[1]

Today, in many countries the debate over religion does not principally concern the rejection or the negation of its rationality or credibility, but rather the return of old irrational, magical or mythical “religious” phenomena now dressed up in new clothing. This does not mean that in the West the processes of desecularization have overcome those of secularization, which remain tenacious even now. It means, instead, that something new and different is developing in secular society.


The secular person

A Bach chorale solemnly affirms that man’s place is next to God,[2] an affirmation which is ever true for believers. And for others? At a glance, one would say that a sense of the transcendent, which Christianity attributes to the living God, is not part of the cultural logic, which maintains a sense of the transcendent to be insignificant in the light of reason and human freedom.

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