Public Religions in the Modern World

Author: José Casanova

June 15, 1994

José Casanova's Public Religions in the Modern World reevaluates the theory of secularization in light of the global resurgence of religion during the last four decades, focusing on the phenomenon of “deprivatization,” or religious re-engagement in the public sphere. The reemergence of religion as a major force in world politics challenged long-held assumptions about the relationship between secularization and modernity. Until the 1970s, social scientists generally accepted the argument that religion was in decline, a traditional institution destined to shrink or vanish under the pressures of modernization. As evidence of a powerful religious revival became impossible to ignore, many scholars reacted by jettisoning the theory of secularization in its entirety. In contrast, Casanova proceeds by drawing an analytical distinction between three distinct moments of the theory of secularization: first, the differentiation of secular spheres, such as the state and the market, from religion; second, the decline of religious practices and beliefs; and third, the privatization of religion. He then argues that differentiation remains the defensible core of secularization, while religious decline is both normatively flawed and empirically false.

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