Journal Article

Stark's Age of Faith Argument and the Secularization of <i>Things:</i> A Commentary

C. John Sommerville

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 63, issue 3, pages 361-372
Published in print January 2002 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 2002 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI:
Stark's Age of Faith Argument and the Secularization of Things: A Commentary

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Rodney Stark has recently argued that secularization theory stands or falls with the historical existence of an “age of faith”, which is thought to present a contrast with our present religiously-mixed situation. He presents much recent evidence that the medieval period does not fit that description. But he misconceives the issues. First, faith is not the most natural description of medieval religion, which is better seen as religious culture. As Lucien Febvre pointed out, those populations literally could not express themselves outside of a religious idiom, unlike today. Therefore, we commonly adopt a different sense of the term “secularization” in reference to culture (things or institutions) than when referring to people (beliefs). Second, although Stark warns that in assessing religion today we must remember not to restrict ourselves to Christianity, he violates that principle in insisting on proper religion when assessing medieval society. Third, he assumes that in speaking of secularization, one must mean secularization theory. This ignores a descriptive sense used in historical scholarship. Thus, Stark is announcing the demise of the concept of secularization just when it is becoming a larger and more important problem for scholars.

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Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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