Journal Article

Secularization, R.I.P.

Rodney Stark

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 60, issue 3, pages 249-273
Published in print January 1999 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 1999 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI:
Secularization, R.I.P.

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From the beginning, social scientists have celebrated the secularization thesis despite the fact that it never was consistent with empirical reality. More than 150 years ago Tocqueville pointed out that “the facts by no means accord with [the secularization] theory,” and this lack of accord has grown far worse since then. Indeed, the only shred of credibility for the notion that secularization has been taking place has depended on contrasts between now and a bygone Age of Faith. In this essay I assemble the work of many recent historians who are unanimous that the Age of Faith is pure nostalgia — that lack of religious participation was, if anything, even more widespread in medieval times than now. Next, I demonstrate that there have been no recent religious changes in Christendom that are consistent with the secularization thesis — not even among scientists. I also expand assessment of the secularization doctrine to non-Christian societies showing that not even the highly magical “folk religions” in Asia have shown the slightest declines in response to quite rapid modernization. Final words are offered as secularization is laid to rest.

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Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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