December 17, 2015

The 7 Defects of Highly Secular Societies


1. Over-abstraction: the literature of the theorists routinely spoke of "differentiation," "autonomization," "privatization," and other abstract, if not abstruse, dynamics disengaged from concrete factors of social change such as interests, ideologies, institutions, and power conflicts.

2. Lack of human agency: the theory was big on process without protagonists. It depicted secularization without secularizers. According to the theory, secularization just happens.

3. Overdeterministic inevitability: "Religion's marginalization from public life is portrayed as a natural or inevitable process like cell mitosis or adolescent puberty." Secularization theory reflects a view of linear social evolution in the tradition of Comte and Spencer. "If there is one truth that history teaches us beyond doubt," wrote the great Durkheim, "it is that religion tends to embrace a smaller and smaller portion of social life." Any questions, class?

4. Idealist intellectual history: here the history of ideas is determinative. "Culture, philosophy, and intellectual systems certainly matter. But they cannot be abstracted from the real historical, social, political, legal, and institutional dynamics through which they worked and were worked upon."

5. Romanticized history: there was in the view of secularization theorists an "age of faith" --for instance, the thirteenth century -- which was succeeded and displaced by the age of reason and modernity. Then everything was religious; now everything, or at least everything that matters in public, is secular.

6. An overemphasis on religious self-destruction: Berger's 1967 The Sacred Canopy suggested that the Judeo-Christian tradition "carried the seeds of secularization within itself."

7. Underspecified causal mechanisms: "Exactly how did industrialization and immigration work to produce religious privatization? Why should we treat these as some kind of 'great gears of history' that inexorably grind their way toward religious privatization? Rather than all nodding our scholarly heads together in what could be premature analytical closure, we need to go back and force ourselves to answer these questions again."

-- -- Richard John Neuhaus,Secularization Doesn't Just Happen

Posted by Vanderleun at December 17, 2015 10:59 PM
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