Monday, 12 March 2012

Secularization revisited

The classic secularization paradigm has gone into decline over the past couple of decades. Many sociologists are no longer convinced that modernity is 'the engine dragging the gods into retirement' (as Rodney Stark and Roger Finke once put it). The current issue of the Historical Journal carries two historiographical reviews which further qualify modernist assumptions. The most ambitious and wide ranging is Jonathan Clark's essay, 'Secularization and modernization: the failure of a "grand narrative"'. Clark surveys a very wide range of historical research and is characteristically learned and provocative. Jeffrey Morris focusses on modern Britain in his piece on 'Secularization and religious experience'.

Both are worth reading alongside David Martin's latest book, The Future of Christianity (Ashgate, 2011). Martin was one of the earliest and most persistent critics of the traditional paradigm, but he has been careful to retain a modified theory of secularization, one that avoids strong teleology. He is wary of the bald claim that secularization has 'gone into reverse'. The book distils a lifetime of learning and reflection on topics like Pentecostalism, Eastern Europe, master narratives and religious violence.

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