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Secularization: An Analysis at Three Levels

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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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PART II SECULARIZATION: THE THREE LEVELS AND THEIR INTERRELATEDNESS

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163 Presentation In my Trend Report of 1982, the first part of the present work, I set forth the need to differentiate between three levels of analysis in our studies of the secularization process – the societal, the organizational and the individual level, and on the study of their interrelatedness. Secondly, throughout the chapters on societal and organizational secu- larization, I have pointed out that secularization is not a mechanical, evolutionary process, which implies that we have to study the impact of actors – among others: religious and lay collectivities, groups and quasi- groups and professionals, politicians and church leaders – on latent and manifest attempts to secularize or to sacralize organizations and society. Since 1982, a new synthesis of the secularization paradigm has been published (Tschannen, 1992); new empirical studies have become available; and the discussion pro and con the secularization theory has continued, especially animated by representatives of rational choice theory (RCT), who proposed RCT as an alternative, at least in the USA (Young, 1997). In this second part, I address some of the issues raised, refer to recent empirical studies – without pretending to be exhaustive, and take up a position in the ongoing discussion; whilst trying to make clear what I consider to be the advantages of distinguishing the different levels of analysis. Study of the relationship between the societal and individual levels dominates the discussion, but I do not neglect the impact of the raising level of religious pluralism in our regions. 165 CHAPTER 1 The Interrelatedness of Societal...

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