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Secularization: An Analysis at Three Levels

Second Printing

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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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Preface 13

Extract

13 Preface The present book builds on my Trend Report, “Secularization: A Multi-Dimensional Concept”, which was published in 1981 and which is presented here as Part I. This study was intended to give a structured overview of sociological studies related to the topic of secularization. The major problem emerging from my reading was that the concept of secularization covered and still covers three levels of analysis. Indeed, Fenn (2001) writes about the shape of a secular society; T. Luckmann (1967: 36) refers to the internal secularization of the American Main Churches and B. Wilson (1998: 58-59) calls the New Religious Move- ments secularized versions of religion; and finally, Stark (1999: 251) claims that secularization also implies the demise of individual piety. In my trend report, I sought to differentiate these three dimensions, by using the terms “laicization” for the societal or macro level, “religious change” for the organizational or meso level, and “religious involve- ment” for the individual or micro level. The concept of secularization should be used only if one referred to all three levels at the same time. However, this proposal did not produce the expected results. Chaves (1994 and 1997) reacted positively to the distinction be- tween the three levels, and introduced better names: societal secular- ization for the macro level, organizational secularization for the meso level, and individual secularization for the micro level. Indeed, the term laicization was not acceptable for two reasons. In English, the term is first and foremost used for designing the process...

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