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Rethinking secularization: A global comparative perspective

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Chapter Summary

This chapter suggests that in order to speak meaningfully of ‘secularization’ we needed to distinguish three different connotations: (i) Secularization, as decline of religious beliefs and practices in modern societies, often postulated as a human universal developmental process. (ii) Secularization, as privatization of religion, often understood both as a general modern historical trend and as a normative condition, indeed as a precondition for modern liberal democratic politics. (iii) Secularization, as differentiation of the secular spheres, usually understood as ‘emancipation,’ from religious institutions and norms. The chapter examines the validity of each of the three propositions independently of each other and thus to refocus the often fruitless secularization debate into comparative historical analysis that could account for different patterns of secularization, in all three meanings of the term, across societies and civilizations. Yet, the debate between the European and American sociologists of religion remains unabated.

Keywords: American sociologists; democratic politics; European societies; privatization; religious institutions; secularization



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