Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mainstream Secularization Theory

The Question

We know how the elites were affected by the nova effect. But what about everyone else? How is it that “the predicament of the then upper strata has become that of whole societies”? (423)
· It’s more than mere “diffusion.”
· It’s “incredibly complicated.”

Some Preliminary Concerns

If we understand secularization as “some kind of decline in religion” (427), then we need to set some things straight.
· What is religion? Who are the religious? (427)
· Recognize the “issues of interpretation” and the “unthoughts” of secularization theory.
o “Everyone can see that there have been declines in practice and declared belief in many countries… But how to understand and interpret these changes may not be evident” (426).
o “… one’s own framework beliefs and values can constrict one’s theoretical imagination” (428).

The “Unthoughts” of Secularization Theory

Religion must decline because (428-9):
a) it is false (and we know this from science)
b) it is irrelevant (for we have other methods to serve the same function)
c) it is authoritarian (that is, it inhibits individual autonomy)

Mainstream Secularization Theory

Basically that “‘modernity’ (in some sense) tends to repress or reduce ‘religion’ (in some sense)” (429). Or, “modernity has led to a decline in the transformation perspective” (431).

The Three-Storey Dwelling Metaphor:

(Imagine a house with three floors: the ground floor holds the fact that religious belief and practice have diminished; the basement gives the historical explanations to why this is; the upper level consists of questions for religion today)

“Powerful Enframing Assumptions” (433)

How can we claim that religion is not needed in modernity? Two assumptions are being made:

1) The disappearance thesis – religion disappears with modernity
2) The epiphenomenal thesis – religion is secondary to a higher function

Given these two assumptions, it is easy to think that, “when humans come to control their world and society, the religious impulse must atrophy” (434).

The Future of Religion?

If atheism and agnosticism don’t become default positions, some think that “the whole issue will fade” and “later generations will wonder what the fuss was all about” (434).

Taylor thinks this atrophy isn’t plausible. He thinks we are already too deeply committed to the transformation perspective. Instead, religion has adapted, as we see in the creation of new denominations and institutional organization (435-6).

“But the interesting story is not simply one of decline, but also of a new placement of the sacred or spiritual in relation to individual and social life” (437).


Taylor admits that his project is to explain secularization in the Western world (understandably). But is there anything we can draw from the stories of secularization – or lack of secularization – outside of Western society? Have non-Western societies demonstrated a commitment to the “transformation perspective” that might help us make a claim about human nature? Can they help us understand why we may not be approaching atrophy of the religious?

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