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Secularization: An Analysis at Three Levels

Second Printing


Karel Dobbelaere

In an epoch in which religion has explicitly and sometimes violently returned to the forefront of the global public scene, the process of secularization that has fundamentally marked Western and particularly European societies demands attention and analysis. This book, written from a sociological perspective, takes up that challenge.
The author distinguishes three levels of secularization. Societal secularization which is a typical consequence of the processes of modernity, and of programmes of «laïcisation» promoted by political parties. Individual secularization that is manifested in the decline of church commitment; occurring as individuals re-compose their personal beliefs and practices in a «religion à la carte»; and as the individual's meaning system becomes compartmentalized and religion is separated from other areas of life. A third level, organizational secularization, covers the incidence of the adaptation of religious bodies to secularized society.
The entire work is marked by meticulous description and analysis of numerous theoretical and empirical studies, and by due recognition of the intricate relationship between levels of secularization and the impact of various actors in the many conflicts over religion's roles.


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Series Editor’s Presentation by Gabriel Fragnière 11


11 Series Editor’s Presentation We are very pleased to be able to publish, as a first volume in this new series devoted to the study of religions in contemporary society, a classical study on the theory of secularization. This book which was first published more than twenty years ago, as a Trend Report for the International Sociological Association, in Current Sociology, (Vol. 29, No. 2, Summer 1981) has ceased to be available to the interested read- ers of today, and might have become definitively lost among forgotten theoretical works of the past. It is true that twenty years might be considered a very long period in the rapidly changing history of social sciences, and theories which appeared very fashionable at a certain time may no longer be considered up to date two decades later. Much must depend on the questions being raised. Social reality and basic human questioning do not always change according to the abstract principles which, at a given point in time, intellectuals develop as a temporary response to them. Secularization has been very much discussed during the huge intel- lectual and scientific revolution that the social sciences faced in the 1960s and 1970s. Sociologists, philosophers, even theologians, fasci- nated by the apparently unlimited opportunities which were intellectu- ally offered to them, witnessing radical changes in peoples’ attitudes and behavior towards moral values and religion – sustained in this by the huge hopes that the aggiornamento of Vatican Council II was sup- posed to bring to the Catholic Church...

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