After Secularization (special double issue)   /   Spring/Summer 2006   /    Articles

Rethinking Secularization

José Casanova

Over a decade ago, I suggested that in order to speak meaningfully of “secular- ization,” we needed to distinguish between three di erent connotations:

a) Secularization as the decline of religious beliefs and practices in modern societies, often postulated as a universal, human, developmental process. is is the most recent but by now the most widespread usage of the term in contemporary academic debates on secularization, although it remains unregistered in most dictionaries of most European languages.

b) Secularization as the 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.1

c) Secularization as the differentiation of the secular spheres (state, economy, science), usually understood as “emancipation” from religious institutions and norms. is is the core component of the classic theories of secularization, which is related to the original etymological-historical meaning of the term within medieval Christendom. As indicated by every dictionary of every Western European language, it refers to the transfer of persons, things, meanings, etc., from ecclesiastical or religious to civil or lay use, possession, or control.

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