Sociology of Religion- Approaches to Secularization

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Sociology of Religion- Final Assignment 2013 1. One of the definitions of secularization is the transformation of a society from close Identification with religious values and Institutions toward nonreligious (or irreligious) values and secular institutions. The Secularization thesis states that as society progresses, particularly through modernlzatlon and rationalization, rellglon loses its authority in all aspects of social life and governance. Max Weber described this process as the “disenchantment ot the world”.
One ot the most significant sociologists who wrote about the Secularization Theory, Jose Casanova, spoke of three ajor approaches to secularization, referring mostly to Western Christian cultures (Casanova, 2007, p. 8). HIS works generally referred to the process of secularization as it took place in Europe, sparked by the Age of Enlightenment, and later on, constitutionalized in the US. One major approach to secularization by Casanova is the process of secularization as social differentiation.
Casanova defined this approach as “conceptualization of the process of societal moderni7ation as a process of functional differentiation and emancipation of the secular spheres”primarily the tate, the economy, and science”from the religious sphere and the concomitant differentlatlon and speclallzatlon of rellglon within Its own newly found rellglous sphere”. In other words, as modernization carried out the ideas of rationalization, methodological individualism and scientific research, European societies had become much more differentiated.
That resulted In all social spheres leaving the regulation by religion and developing according to their autonomous laws Hence, gradually, the church had lost most of Its Influence and control on most social spheres. Furthermore, social differentiation caused religion to become another autonomous sphere among others, a sphere which is designed to fulfill special religious or spiritual functions religion became another social activity. Deprived of religious influence, the rise of the modern state as an autonomous institution allowed religious toleration as long as the domestic security Is maintained, thus resulting In more secularization.
In addition, as Weber stated, as rationalization proceeds both in religion and in other institutional spheres, the tension between religion and other spheres grow. The rise of scientific research which led to question metaphysical perception, and the new capitalistic economies, gave a boost to secularization and formed d new order of society. The effect of seculdrlzdtlon In Europe took place In the states, as the liberal American model believed that the true church, constituted by all those who have a commitment to faith, becomes “Invisible”, The assumption is that everyone who has commitment to fate becomes a part of the religious community.
There is no need of knowing who is a member of the church as there’s no church elite which can rule over society. The Individual doesn’t express himself in religious institution but in politics and in work ethic. Thus, in practice, all the churches are basically unnecessary. The emphasis Is that one has to work In a calling in the world for the greater glory of God. If one perfects the work based on his faith described as holy community. This holy community is what leads to separation of church and state as church is not that important anymore. As mentioned above, social differentiation causes religion to be Just another social sphere.
This process leads to the second approach of Casanova which is the decline of social significance f religion – one does not need religion in order for the social systems to function. According to Bryan Wilson ( 1982, p. 1 51), individuals devote less time, energy and resources to the supernatural, their thinking becomes more rational, empirical and instrumental, they rely less upon religious actions such as prayers and ceremonies to achieve their ends, and the types of explanations that they offer for natural events are less mythological and supernatural.
Wilson claims that what drives this secularization is the transformation from a community to an urban society (p. 52-154), an explanation which is somewhat similar to the Durkheim’s definitions of mechanic and organic society. In a community, there’s much more emphasis on personal relations, less differentiation and social control is achieved through morality. However, in modern society, social relations weaken and what becomes significant is role expectation. Religion and its morals are not considered central anymore and the weight shifts to exchange relationship.
Casanova’s third approach, privatization of religion defines secularization as an idea that religion becomes a matter of subjective individual choice. As opposed to Durkheim who saw religion as the basis of collective representations, this approach does not need a collective representation as it works on a different level. Peter Berger stated that individuals seek to build their own meaning system representation. According to Berger, religion naturalizes the social order, hence secularization does not necessarily lack religion and is no longer necessary in order to provide the glue of society as society can function by itself.
Furthermore, in modernity, religion loses its place as forming meaning for the entire society and gives meaning only to the individual (Berger,1967, . 127). As a result, religion becomes one meaning system among many, where one can live a fulfilled life without a religion and achieve happiness, self-fulfillment, success, etc. on his own without referring to the transcendent. One can also find other meaning systems such as humanism, sports or any other concept which he can interpret as influential and inspiring. Since religion is not taken for granted anymore, it has to market itself and adjust to the different needs of individuals.
Hence one can see the rise of denominations, each one attempting to target a different “religious udience”. Moreover, the definition of a religious individual becomes much broader, as one can believe but not take any part in traditional ceremonies etc. All in all, it can be said that what all approaches have in common is the devaluation of religion, from a state which it was dictating the social order to a state that its influence on society has deeply weakened. However, the approaches do not cancel out religion and see it as diminished; each approach describes a different role which religion provides in a different context.
In addition, all approaches are based on the ideas of the nlightenment, creating a modern order characterized by rationalism and methodical individualism. In contrast, the decline of religion and privatization approach focus on micro changes, those concerning the individuals and their perception of religion, while the social differentiation focuses on the formations of specialized autonomous Secularization Thesis describes a process in which society becomes more secular as modernity progresses.
Social differentiation, through rationality, managed to remove the influence of religion in the defining professions such as media, law, academics economy, etc. , and reconstruct them as autonomous spheres. These prominent, now secular spheres define social reality and give the feeling that the whole world is secular, but in fact, Berger states that this might be an illusion of a certain elite. In truth, a major complication in the Secularization Thesis is the return of religion, describing four major events which took place in the 70’s and onwards.
The Islamic revolution in Iran led by Ayatollah Khomeini resulted in the re-implantation of Islam into all social spheres. The Moral Majority organization in the US, with a membership of 4 million members, was one of the largest conservative lobby groups in the country nd managed to influence on many political agendas. In addition, the formation of the national conservative Hindu Bharatiya Janata party in India and the religionization of the Israel- Palestine conflict also emphasized and gave a central platform for religion to affect other social spheres, mainly politics.
What these events had in common is the belief that the social order had to change by a new comprehensive system, emanating from religious principles and embracing law, politics, society, economy and culture. In fact, going back to a de-differentiated society with religion dictating most social spheres defines fundamentalism. The first approach to fundamentalism sees fundamentalism as universal, characterized by a “family resemblance” among various movements, analyzed in terms of “religious idealism” and most importantly is against secularization and the modernity which carries it.
In this paradigm, fundamentalists are the “Other” of the modern subject. They are irrational as they are led by charismatic totalitarian leaders who construct cosmological mythologies and mythologize their enemies. They are absolutist, totalistic, hence rigid and not subject to change or even negotiation. Furthermore, hey are organized in militant defensiveness, set high social boundaries with severe sanctions in which to enforce its beliefs and actions. This is all done in order to protect the group from contamination and preserve purity.
Despite their traditional, not modern beliefs, fundamentalist movements are very aware and conscious to modern society. They do not simply re-affirm the old doctrines; they subtly lift them from their original context, embellish and institutionalize them and employ them as ideological weapons against a hostile world. In order to spread their ideologies, the ovements use modern technology such as television, radio and the internet, accepting that some adjustments to their traditional methods must take place.
Another approach to the study of Fundamentalism is Eisenstadt’s Multiple Modernities. This approach explains that as modernity is characterized by intensive critical thinking concerning the traditional premises of the ontological, social and political orders, one can basically question everything. As a result, since everything can be doubted, there is a loss of all markers of certainty. This loss leads to two opposing yet complementary directions of the construction of society by conscious uman actions: pluralism and absolutism.
Pluralism creates a social order of choice, options that one can choose from as the uncertainty is growing. On the other hand, totalistic social order describes an attempt to create one utopian unconditional world more into conformity with the transcendental ideals, and this social order is the one adopted by fundamentalist movements. Every modern society locates itself in a different fashion upon the spectrum between absolutism and pluralism. Therefore there are multiple modern societies and not only the western variety fundamentalist movements within the framework of Multiple Modernities.
Fundamentalist movements have modern totalistic characteristics such as the Jacobin party had in the French revolution (Eisenstadt, p. 175) and like communist movements, which attempted to capture the political center of society and to remake society and culture in accord with their utopian-religious vision. To conclude, according to the definitions used above, political fundamentalist movements are an alternative modernity. As long modern societies are based on modern tradition the modern religion disappears and new religious movements which are ideological are coming to be.
Political fundamentalist movements are an attempt to continue modern ideological politics in an age of the end of secular ideologies. Bibliography Berger, P. L. (1967). The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. New York. Casanova, J. (2007). Rethinking secularization: a global comparative perspective. Religion, Globalization, and Culture, 101-120. Eisenstadt, N. S. (2000), Between Europe and Islam: Shaping modernity in transcultural space. Brussels Wilson, B. R. (1982). Religion in sociological perspective (Vol. 7). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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