Contextual Secularization – Theoretical Thoughts and Empirical Implications

Gert Pickel


In the last decades, the hypothesis of a secularization of modernizing societies has come under pressure. But does it mean, that we can conclude from all this criticism that secularization theory and its assumptions have become obsolete in the 21st century? I would say no and plead for a well-considered continued use of a contextualized secularization theory. Social, political and cultural circumstances in modern societies should be considered more sensitive, as the ideas of the secularization theory should be complemented by alternative approaches of sociology of religion. Secularization theory is a good starting point to structure the thoughts on the relationship between religion and society. But contextualization is necessary. Historical developments, which determine the cultural context, political surroundings and processes of identity building lead to path dependent secularization and complex developments, including countereffects. The actual task of comparative sociology of religion is to decode the diversity of this processes. Contextualization does not mean to reject secularization theory, only to make their assumptions better. Religious developments depend from the social ecology and can also take trends, which are nonlinear, in form of waves or parabolic. Consequently, different constellations lead to multiple religious vitalities and ariations in the timing of secularization.

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