Mediatizing Secular State

Media, Religion and Politics in Contemporary Poland

by Damian Guzek (Author)
©2019 Monographs 332 Pages
Open Access


The book provides an empirically based analysis of changes on how various political and denominational actors seek to influence the Church and state relationship, as well as how we understand the idea of the secular state. A set of case studies shows how and why changes in the coverage of the secular state and Church-state relations have followed the dynamics of media logic. By establishing a grounded theory based on media content, legal regulations and political party programs in the years 1989–2015 as well as a current survey, the author throws new light on the theory of mediatization. The book demonstrates that the disseminated idea of the secular state is largely a result of the adaptation of both political and religious representatives to a dynamically changing media logic.
"The book is the first study of this kind showing the Polish perspective. It is an interesting and important source of information for those who want to trace the media picture of relations between the Polish state and the institution of the Roman Catholic Church, representing the largest religious community in Poland."
Professor Dorota Piontek, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Part I
  • 1 State secularity in context
  • 1.1 Shaping the Church-state relationship according to models
  • 1.2 Understanding the secular state
  • 1.3 Differentiating laïcité, neutrality, and impartiality
  • 1.4 The secular state’s ways of accommodating conscientious exemptions
  • 1.5 The secular state on the fusion of national and religious identity
  • 1.6 Understanding civil religion
  • 1.7 The place of public religion
  • 1.8 Lasting Polish religiosity in context
  • 2 The notion of mediatization
  • 2.1 Traditions of mediatization research
  • 2.2 Defining mediatization
  • 2.3 Mediatization epistemology: The grand theory or the theory of middle range?
  • 2.4 Understanding media institutions
  • 2.5 Differentiating media
  • 2.6 Understanding media logic
  • 2.7 Components of media logic
  • 2.8 Forms and objects of mediatization
  • 2.9 Operationalizing mediatization research
  • 2.10 Mediatization affects the media effect
  • 3 Mediatization of religion and politics
  • 3.1 Designating mediatization of religion
  • 3.2 Understanding mediatization of religion
  • 3.3 Three forms of mediatized religion
  • 3.4 Spheres of mediatized religion
  • 3.5 Mediatization in the context of secularization
  • 3.6 Mediatization in the context of republicization
  • 3.7 Conditions and consequences of the mediatization of religion
  • 3.8 Conceptualizing the mediatization of politics
  • 3.9 Media logic versus political logic
  • 3.10 Results of the mediatization of politics
  • Part II
  • 4 Methodological background
  • 4.1 Introduction to the research design
  • 4.2 Materials
  • 4.3 First stage: Media content analysis
  • 4.4 Second stage: The grounded theory
  • 4.5 Third stage: Survey questionnaires
  • 4.6 Triangulation of the methods
  • 5 Covering the secular and Church-state relationship
  • 5.1 The secular state and the Church-state relationship: A quantitative overview
  • 5.2 Placing the secular state and secularity in the quantitative material
  • 5.3 Who is important: Political actors
  • 5.4 Who is important: Religious actors
  • 5.5 Locating the agency: Believers, non-believers, and covered confessions
  • 5.6 Religion becoming public
  • 6 On the way to the secular state
  • 6.1 The secular state and Church-state relationship: A qualitative overview
  • 6.2 The incoherent debate over the secular state
  • 6.3 Political agents get mediatized
  • 6.4 Religious agents get mediatized
  • 6.5 Covering the fusion of religion and state
  • 7 In search of the mediatization effect
  • 7.1 Sources of knowledge about a secular state
  • 7.2 Not very attractive Church-state issues
  • 7.3 “Where’s the cross?”
  • 7.4 Between secularity and state impartiality
  • 7.5 Reconsidering the mediatization effect
  • Conclusion: Church-state issues seen through the prism of the mediatization theory
  • Poland’s way of creating an endorsed Church
  • Shaping the concepts
  • Religious issues get mediatized
  • Political issues get mediatized
  • Insight into the mediation of the secular state
  • Appendix
  • List of Figures
  • References
  • Index


Regarding the mediatization of the secular state

In Poland, a secular state remains the “pious wish” of opponents of religion in the public sphere. November 13, 2015, was the day after the swearing-in ceremony which opened the new term of the Polish parliament. On the largest Polish news portal, Onet.pl, a text with a significant title appeared: Sejm of the 8th term. How many deputies sworewithout God” (2015). The author of the article named 27 deputies who took an oath without ending “so help me God.” Here, the author allowed the readers to interpret who was “righteous” or “wicked.” This figure shows that the Church-state relationship in Poland really does matter.

June 1, 2018, was the day after the Corpus Christi processions on the streets. The YouTube channel called Wolność24 – Wolność i już! [Freedom 24 – Freedom Now!] showed a new film with the Butterfly-man, a disguised performer who used to disrupt one of the big Corpus Christi processions every year. This time, the Butterfly-man chose the main procession in Warsaw. A report about his performance dressed as Jesus, in a dozen or so hours, was viewed by over 60,000 YouTube users. Here we can see that the controversy of the meeting point of the Church in public space has a significant reception and this is happening even faster than ever before.

Comparing these images, we perceive a certain scheme. Religion in Poland’s public space is doing very well. Those who do not enter into its framework are subject to controversy. It does not matter if their agency takes on a civilized form or breaks religious feelings and blasphemy. Today, this is happening at a faster pace thanks to digital media, while in the past, this was happening at a slower pace through traditional media. What essentially is this process? What are its dynamics?

Context: Secularization, desecularization

In this book, we deal with this issue by associating the fields of media, religion, and politics. This attempt leads to articulate the thesis on the mediatization of the secular state. In particular, this matter gets to the roots of the general problem of religion in society. Two essentially permitted empirical approaches can be pointed out in this case: secularization and desecularization.

When we think of a secular state, it becomes clear that the context of secularization reveals the most natural ambience for its implementation in systemic ←15 | 16→practice. However, secularization does not quite suit the Polish case. To begin with, let’s recall José Casanova’s (2006) statement made over a decade ago:

“Let Poland itself prove the secularization thesis wrong. Let Polonia Semper Fidelis keep faith with its Catholic identity and tradition while succeeding in its integration into Europe, thus becoming a ‘normal’ European country. Such an outcome, if feasible, could suggest that the decline of religion in Europe might not be a teleological process necessarily linked with modernization, but rather a historical choice Europeans have made. A modern religious Poland could perhaps force secular Europeans to rethink their secularist assumptions and realize that it is not so much Poland that is out of sync with modern trends, but rather a secular Europe that is out of sync with the rest of the world.”

In his short text, Casanova establishes two mechanisms. The first indicates that modernization does not have to involve a decline in religiosity. The second assumes a missionary perspective according to which Poland has the potential to convince Europe to abandon the path of secularization. This rhetorical matter indicates that when thinking about secularization, we have in mind the decline in religiosity associated with modernization. Second, secularization cannot be reduced in this way in Poland. In a country with such a strictly homogeneous religious structure (Borowik, Dyczewska, & Litak, 2012), this would be an abuse. Let’s, therefore, ask two basic questions. What is secularization? To what extent can we create an analytical context for contemporary Poland?

Secularization derives from the Latin saeculum [world] (Vorgrimler, 2005: 333), which suggests secularizing, or the late Latin saecularis [secular] (Grabowska, 2002: 21). It appeared in relation to the Church authorities’ progress since the Reformation when lay rulers robbed Church property. In European languages, the term became popular at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 where it expressed the transfer of Church-controlled areas to the state (Wilson, 2005: 8214). In Poland, it appeared in this sense only in 1773 in connection with the dissolution of the Jesuit Order (Grabowska, 2002). Sometime later, the term secularization meant a priest being dispensed from his vows and his transfer to the secular state (Wilson, 2005).

The classics of social thought began to perceive secularization as a process of particular areas of social life (culture, politics, economy, etc.) becoming independent from the influence of religion in Western Europe. Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Émile Durkheim postulated a decline in religiosity along with social modernization. Present in Max Weber’s (1946) slight reflection on rationalization, Entzauberung der Welt [disenchantment of the world] has become the basic term for describing these processes.

In modern approaches to secularism, attention has been drawn to the fact that in the sacred space of meaning, religion is losing control over other spheres of ←16 | 17→life that are gaining autonomy. On the other hand, individuals are constructing their own privatized version of the world. As a result, their religion (1) loses the transcendent element and enters into the worldly and (2) penetrates the world in such a way that it begins to be invisible religion (Luckmann, 1967). According to Peter L. Berger’s (1967) view, secularization proceeds along with the rationalization of the world and industry. Society is then freed from the control of religion. Religions themselves begin to compete with each other for followers. Bryan R. Wilson (2016) claims that, during the course of social differentiation, rationalization brings secularization, whose basic feature refers to autonomy. The independence of social institutions causes institutional religions, practices, and ways of thinking related to religion to lose their importance. Many theoreticians popularize the view of Franz-Xaver Kaufmann (1979) that the process of secularization is not a linear departure from religion. There is also a consensus that, depending on the variant, secularization occurs at the social, institutional, and individual levels (Dobbelaere, 2002; Giddens, 2009; Kaufmann, 1979; Wilson, 2016).

In recent decades, there have basically been two approaches that comprehensively relate to the progress of secularization. Casanova’s (1994) sociological concept understands secularization in three dimensions. The first is the progressive loss of beliefs and the decline of religious practices in modern societies. The second refers to the privatization of religion. The third assumes the emancipation of secular social spheres, meaning their differentiation from religious institutions. Charles Taylor in his Secular Age (2007) presented another approach to secularization a decade ago. The author based this on a largely philosophical analysis of the progress of secularization in the North Atlantic world on several typologies, which, according to Robert N. Bellah (2007) and later researchers (Künkler, Madeley, & Shankar, 2018), three dimensions come to the fore: Secularity I, II, and III. Bellah interprets Taylor’s Secularity I by differentiating domains such as the state, economics, bureaucracy, law, and politics from religious norms and the authority of institutional religions. Using Taylor’s Secularity II, Bellah appealed to the decline of religious practices at the individual level. However, at the Secularity III level, he was concerned about the phenomenon that religious practices and faith became an individual option in society. Consequently, an individual must justify his faith more than disbelief. Both the secular and sacred find a place in society “by virtue of the conditions of the experience of and search for the spiritual” (Taylor, 2007: 4).

Taylor’s Secularity I and II concepts seem to be based on Casanova’s project. However, Taylor’s full concept is shaped by omitting emancipation and privatization, which are very important for Casanova’s model (Gorski, 2018). Thus, ←17 | 18→Taylor’s approach has a broader character than Casanova’s and, as recently shown by editors Mirjam Künkler, John Madeley, and Shylashri Shankar (2018) in their work, after its adaptation to the empirical project, it quite well describes the non-Western context. It is necessary to mention that in this adaptation, the authors narrowed down the analysis time in comparison to Taylor’s concept. They focused equally on every kind of secularization, trying to identify and explain the patterns and dynamics of change. They did this clearly differently than Taylor, who especially emphasized Secularity III based on understanding the changes in the conditions of practicing the faith. Eleven non-Western cases served as the basis for their empirical analysis: China, Japan, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, and Morocco.

The results of the analysis showed two general regularities regarding secularization in non-Western countries. First of all, the Western version of the scheme cannot be easily translated into a general model. The globalization and modernization that are progressing worldwide do not apply just one characteristic model of secularization. The second conclusion proposed by Künkler et al. states that religions differ in their dependence on state regulations. In the case of Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism, the dependence of religion on government authorities is greater than in Christianity, Buddhism, or Chinese religions.

When we translate secularization presented as such in the case of Poland, we can see the implementation of Secularity I and partial implementation of Secularity II (Zielińska, 2009). Despite a few Church-state links in the system, a clear differentiation among the spheres of state, law, politics, bureaucracy, and economics from the nation’s religious space occurs. It cannot be forgotten, however, that this process was unique in post-communist countries. In the period of the Polish People’s Republic, the state functioned according to the model of hostile separation. In accord with Soviet standards, the authorities promoted atheism. After the systemic changes in 1989, a period of shaping public secular institutions and marked tensions between the secular authority began, which was exercised mostly by Catholics and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church just recently admitted into the public sphere.

Regarding Secularity II, there is a drop in institutionalized religious practices at the individual level. Religiosity in the country is slowly being privatized and the incomplete consensus regarding faith is increasing (Borowik, 2010). Such a case, however, goes beyond Taylor’s (2007) conceptualization. The relationship between Poland and Secularity III is even weaker. The dominating narrative proves that Catholic identity is still intertwined with Polish identity. Schemes from the periods of partitions and the communist regime, such as “a Pole = a Catholic,” are not as clear-cut when we consider the division of religiosity in the ←18 | 19→countryside and in the city. However, in many regions of Poland, it is impossible to talk about religious practices and faith only as an option (CBOS, 1994b). At the same time, the percentage of religious practices in large cities has decreased (CBOS, 2014; Urzykowski, 2014).

The theory of secularization assumed the disappearance of religion. Berger (1999, 2011), its chief propagator, surprised many by pointing out in the last decade of his life that modernity is marked by an increase in religious pluralism, brought about by counter-secularization. He called this the desecularization process. In order to precisely outline the context of our reflection on the media’s idea of a secular state, we cannot overlook the specifics of this phenomenon.

Desecularization should be placed on the continuum of the reflection on religion at the turn of the millennium. According to sociologists, it is impossible to only speak about the erosion of whatever is religious, meaning secularization. Instead, one sees the complexity and diversity of religion, the development of new forms of spirituality and the breakup of secularization tendencies (Mariański, 2013). This kind of religious revival is taking place all over the world (Berger, Davie, & Fokas, 2008; Joas, 2014). This is accompanied by the conviction that non-religious projects for Europe have not worked. Modernity, therefore, does not give a clear-cut choice concerning the secular side. Actually, modernity allows people to choose a lifestyle of both a secular and religious character (Berger & Zijderveld, 2009). Modernization does not, therefore, lead to the disappearance of religion but its change. This should be understood in the following way. Religion is not returning to the public sphere because religion has never disappeared from it (Beckford, 2012). Religion, however, has gained new visibility. This property shows how religion changes along with society’s changes (Woodhead, 2012).

It turns out that when we try to capture the essence of secularization, we can treat it in two ways: (1) as religion returning to various spheres of social life, and (2) as a revival of traditional faith and practices and the emergence of new forms of spirituality that are not affiliated with institutional religions (Mariański, 2013). In the first approach, we see desecularization as standing in opposition to secularization. Desecularization provides a space for connecting the religious with public issues. In this sense, we get closer to the deprivatization of religion (Casanova, 1994). On the other hand, secularization, recognized as social differentiation, emancipates individual spheres of social life from the power of institutional religions. The second meaning of desecularization presupposes a return to traditional piety and the development of spirituality, which can be defined as non-denominational (Mercadante, 2014) and the widening of popular religion (Knoblauch, 2008). In this sense, secularization means precisely the process of pluralizing the religious space.

←19 | 20→

In the context of Central European Countries (CEE), including Poland, Christopher Marsh’s (2011) proposed way of understanding desecularization seems significant. Its essence boils down to the domination of religious institutions and symbols over specific spheres of culture and society. In the case of post-communist countries, grassroots and spontaneous desecularization were to replace the earlier secularization imposed by communist authorities. In Poland, this type of approach can be combined after 1989 with the aspirations of the authorities stemming from the Solidarity opposition camp in order to secure the free functioning of the Catholic Church in the country. Thus, when we talk about bottom-up activities, the main point is that voters have chosen the majority on behalf of liberties for the Church and thus compensate for the losses suffered during the communist period.

Desecularization, however, has strong opponents. The articulation of objections towards the approach points to its problematic side. At the same time, it confirms several significant intuitions that result from combining this perspective with the secularization that was previously expounded. The fundamental problem that Titus Hjelm (2015) points to relates to the descriptiveness of desecularization. The phenomenon bravely summarizes the current religious status of the world rather than providing a theory of social and religious change. The author here refers to Casanova’s (1994) argument that the persistent return of religiousness into public life, which is noticeable in individual regions of the world, does not immediately mean the falsification of the theory of secularization.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2019 (March)
Church-state relationship Poland Mediatization theory State secularity
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 330 pp., 43 fig. b/w, 39 tables,

Biographical notes

Damian Guzek (Author)

Damian Guzek is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Silesia in Katowice. He was a visiting fellow at the School of Humanities, Keele University and visiting fellow at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh. In 2017, he conducted the Visby postdoctoral research project at the Centre for Religion and Society, Uppsala University.


Title: Mediatizing Secular State
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333 pages