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Secularization of Christianity

Posted by frieda lara on October 3, 2020 at 3:40 AM

Secularization of Christianity


Secularization refers to the transformation of society’s values from religious to non-religious or irreligious (Dobbelaere, 1998). A secularization thesis evolved, which said that as a society progresses, especially through modernization and rationalization, religion will lose its authority on all the aspects of social life and its governance. It also extended to the relaxation of monastic restrictions on the clergy. Secularization is both a theory and a historical process. Social theorists like Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim argued that modernization of society would result in a decline in all levels of religiosity. These theorists also explained that secularization might have resulted from people’s inability to adjust ethical and spiritual values with the arduous requirements of the physical sciences. One major theme of secularization is differentiation or the tendency of certain areas of life to become more distinctive and specialized in the modernization process. In the United States, that emphasis of secularization was initially on change as an aspect of progress. But American sociologist Talcott Parsons contended that society is a system constantly subjected to increased differentiation. He explained differentiation as a process wherein new institutions assume the task of guaranteeing the survival of society as institutions collapse. He saw a devolution from single and less differentiated institutions to increasingly differentiated ones (Dobbelaere).

In a published article, Chaves (1994) argued that secularization should be properly viewed as a decline in religious authority instead of a declining religion. Alongside, he proposes four supporting arguments for the position. The first is that a decline in religious authority is more aligned with contemporary developments in social theory than a decline in religion will be. The second is that a decline in religious authority incorporates more substance from secularization literature than a decline in religion does. The third is that it reinstates a neglected insight by Weber on the sociological analysis on religion that focuses on religious authority. And the fourth is that it proposes new and useful empirical investigations of religion in industrial settings (Chaves).

American sociologist and social theorist Talcott Parsons proposed that different actors and institutions in society function to establish a structural whole and are thus interdependent (Chaves, 1994). Society tends to move towards equilibrium and the institutions and performers within always adopt to meet common needs within the system. When these needs are not met, frustration develops. Unresolved frustration elicits a response from the organization. If the organization is not effective in achieving goals, institutional norms are questioned and changed. If the affected institutions do not reduce or eliminate that frustration, that society questions basic values and social change takes place. A new differentiation theory has reformulated secularization. If Parson’s interpretation is sifted from the concept of institutional differentiation and religion is perceived as an institutional sphere like others, a study of secularization becomes a study of differentiated concrete social structures. One main concern is to rethink secularization in consideration of intense criticisms in the past decades and ignore these criticisms. This is to focus on religious authority and maintaining it (Chaves).

Religious authority may well be the object of secularization instead of religion itself (Chaves, 1994). People’s religious beliefs are socially efficacious only when mobilized and institutionalized into social structures of authority. Then secularization as the declining power of religious authority structures becomes a truly sociological phenomenon of importance. This, however, means that religious authority replaces religion only as regards secularization. The sociology of religion is not entirely about religious authority. Other studies are not connected with secularization. The other matter is that fundamentalist movements would be categorized under social movements and political revolutions. And since the relevant figures within religious authority structures are the religious leaders or professionals who comprise these structures and the focus on religious authority really means the sphere of its control, then the theories should be categorized under generalized professionalization. Abbott’s 1988 theory of professional systems may apply as it focused on the jurisdictional battles among professionals (Chaves).


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