Pluralism and Secularism

Courtney Bender

in Religion on the Edge

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199938629
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980758 | DOI:
Pluralism and Secularism

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This chapter highlights the shared ground on which contemporary sociological visions of religious pluralism take shape. It argues that current approaches to pluralism developed in response to classical secularization theory's failure to account for the persistence of religiousness in the religiously plural United States. Observing that religious pluralism did not diminish religious fervor as secularization theory predicted, sociologists turned this theory on its head. They adopted a view wherein the diminishing state-church monopoly and the expansion of a civil society differentiated (and thus free) religion from other institutions. Religious groups were and are thus free to begin and end, thrive and fail, without regulation by the state. This framework shares stronger affinities with liberal political theory's conceptions of religion and civil society than it does with classical sociological approaches. The chapter considers John Locke's and Jean–Jacques Rousseau's arguments about religion and polity to identify their resonance with contemporary sociological models, and to similarly highlight the limits of these frameworks which are not often noted. It concludes by looking at how approaches shaped by theories of secularism may offer an opportunity to revive a broadly sociological approach to investigate these compelling issues.

Keywords: religious pluralism; classic secularization theory; religiousness; John Locke; Jean–Jacques Rousseau; religion; policy

Chapter.  10203 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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