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

Secularization and the Impotence of Individualized Religion

Steve Bruce

The secularization paradigm combines two things: an assertion about changes in the presence and nature of religion, and a collection of related explanations of those changes. It is not a universally applicable scientific law, but a description and explanation of the past of European societies and their settler offspring. Contrary to often repeated caricatures, it is not a simple evolutionary model and does not imply a single uniform future—but it does suppose that there are “socio-logics” to societal changes. Some changes go together; others do not. For example, feudal societies can have effective state churches; culturally diverse liberal democracies cannot. And that is not an accident. As I show below, it can be explained by fundamental features of the latter sort of society.


A full elaboration of the secularization paradigm with sufficient data to convince the open-minded (some people are beyond persuasion) needs at least a book and it took me three.11xSee my books Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996); Choice and Religion: A Critique of Rational Choice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); and God is Dead: Secularization in the West (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002). All I can do here is offer a few illustrative facts, elaborate one part of the explanation, examine in some detail one alternative to the secularization paradigm, and request that the reader make the charitable assumption that I will have dealt with the obvious criticisms in other places.

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