SOC 257: New Religious Movements Lectures
University of Virginia
Department of Sociology
Jeffrey K. Hadden

Paradigms in Conflict:
Secularization and the Theory of Religious Economy

    Lecture Outline:

    Part I: Secularization: The Inherited Model

    What secularization theory seeks to explain

      � Secularization theory seeks to explain the fate of religion in the modern.

      � Before there was social science there were social philosophers who believed that the age of reason and the birth of science to be incompatable with religion.

      � As reason and science advance, they argued, religion will receed from public life and perhaps disappear all together.

      � Many scholars believed that human societies had passed through developmental stages which were broadly characterized as:

      1. Primative societies
      2. Developing societies
      3. Modern societies

        The dominant mode for understanding the world during each of these states:
        • Magic
        • Religion
        • Science

      � This developmental model effectively forecasts that human societies will outgrow the need for religion. Science and rational thought will dominate human beings' understanding of their world. Rodney Stark and William S. Bainbridge capture the essence of this kind of thinking in the first paragraph of their book The Future of Religion:

        At least since the Enlightment, most Western intelletuals have anticipated the death of religion as eagerly as ancient Israel awaited the messiah. Social scientists have particularly excelled in predicting the triumph of reason over 'superstition.' The most illustrious figures in sociology, anthropology, and psychology have unanimously expressed confidence that their children, or surely their grandchildren, would live to see the dawn of a new era in which, to paraphrase Freud, the infantile illusions of religion would be outgrown."

      � The underlying assumptions of secularization theory:

      1. Religion is irrational
      2. People who believe are irrational
      3. As the world becomes more rational, guided by science, knowledge rather than superstition, religion is destined to disappear.

        � Some social scientists celebrated the disappearance of religions; for others is was a matter of considerable concern.

        � Few questioned the presupposition that religion would receed and eventually disappear

    Secular defined:

      To secularize is to:

      • convert from ecclesiastical or religious to civil or lay use or ownership
      • cause to draw away from religious ownership.

      Secularization defined:

        "The process by which sectors of soceity are removed from the domination of religious institutions"
        --Peter Berger

        "...a process of transfer of property, power, activities, and both manifest and latent functions, from institutions with a supernatural frams of reference to (often new) institutions operating according to empirical, rational, pragmatic criteria."
        --Bryon Wilson

    Part II

    Secularization and Modernization

    Locating Secularization in the broader nexis of social science theory

      � Early social scientists were accutely aware of the tremendous transformation that was taking place in the world (especially Europe) from the Enlightment forward.

      � Their goal was to explain what was happening and why.

      � Much of their theorizing can be incorporated under what came to be known as a theory of modernization.

      � The basic components of a theory of modernization are presented and then we show how it is related to secularization.


        The process by which the world become modern;

        The process wherein human cultures have been transformed from simple to complex societies.


        The affirmation or preference for values, ideas, and material things judged to be modern;

        Implicitly, modernism is a rejection of things modern.

        What does it mean not to be modern?

          Does it refer only to temporal proximity?

          Does it imply rejectoin of the sacred.

    The Modernization Paradigm

      Dimensions of Modernization:

      1. Rationalization
      2. Industrialization
      3. Bureaucratization
      4. Urbanization
      5. Secularization

      Dimensions of Secularization:

      • Cognitive
      • Institutional
      • Behavioral

      Initially, secularization theory viewed modernization as severely impacting the totally of human culture. Many contemporary scholars believe that secularization is best understood not as a single phenomenon but, rather, as a process that impacts:

      • the cognitive organization of information,
      • institutional arrangements, and
      • human behavior.

        Further, these processes my not move in concert.

      In sociological language, these three processes may be broken down as follows:

      the cognitive dimension of secularization refers to: rationalization;

      the institutional to differentiation, and

      the behavioral to privatization


          Rationalization:...decline of supernational frames of reference in favor of techno-rational explanations


          Differentiation: ...a process by which autonomous seculaar institutions arise and take over many of the functions originally performed by religion


          Privatization:...the locus of any ongoing religious activity gradually shifts from the public sphere to an increasingly circumstcrbed private realm.

    Part III

    Empirical Evidence

    What is the evidence for secularization?

      On the surface, there appears to be lots of evidence to support secularization theory.... indeed, it appears massive in scope.


        � No question that the modern world has alterned our thinking abou god and the universe;

        � The Enlightenment gave us a mechanical view of God; the master craftsman who built the universe and then set it in motion

        � In time, science and rationality created a mood of thinking that denied the palusibility of God....religion is no longer a tenable hypothesis in the modern.

        � But the Reformation set in motion another image of God -- a personal God.


        � No question that the modern world hasseen a significant decline in the dmoniance of religious institutions...

          Skyscrapers, sports arenas, museums, and bridges have replaced the great cathedrals and temples than once dominated human cultures. There are few architectual achievements of the 20th century that are religious in character.

        � Corporate structures and the secular political state appear as the locus of power and authority in the modern world.


        � For most of the 20th century, Europe, a seemingly highly secularized continent, was considered the harbinger of religious behavior in the modern world. The United States, with its relatively high levels of religious participation and profession of belief, was considered the anomoly. The concept "cultural lag" was often employed to account for the fact that America did not parallel the highly secularized Europe.

      � In spite of the appearance of overwhelming evidence for the secularization thesis, the past quarter-of-a-century has begun to produce a wide array of evidence which challenges this taken-for-granted position. This evidence is both historial and contemporary. To date, much of the evidence is limited to North America, but there is growing evidence from around the globe to support the challenge to secularization theory.

        [Materials presented here represent only a summary of evidence presented in class lecture as well as assigned and recommended readings].

      Trends in American Religion

        � Belief in God

        � Church membership

        � Church attendence

        � Personal devotion

        � Financial contributions

          *Public opinion polling has only existed for about sixty years. Much of the archived literature is difficult to assess because different methodologies and different sampling techniques do not make the date directly comparable. Nevertheless, a careful examination of data fail to demonstrate a secularization trend (i.e. decline in indicators of religious belief and participation) in the U.S. Overall, most indicators are amazing stable.

          For one assessment of polling data, see: Hadden, J.K. "Toward Desacralizing Secularization Theory," Social Forces (March, 1987)

      Summary of Other Evidence Challenges the Secularization Paradigm

        � Kelley thesis: Why Conservative Churches Are Growing

        � Carpenter on evangelicals

        � Religion and Civil Rights

        � Finke and Stark on religion in American History

      Religious Adherence in America: 1776-1990*


      % Adherence in America




















      Source: Finke, Roger and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-1990 , New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, l992.

      A long held assumption of American history is that the founders of this nation were very religious people; only gradually have be become a more secular culture. The data presented by Finke and Stark in their pioneering book reveals quite a different interpretation of American religious history. Perhaps key leaders were religious, but the evidence indicates that religious adherents constituted a small minority. And, further, that adherence has grown throughout American history.

      Part IV

      The Religious Economy Theory


      Thomas Kuhn's classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions argued that paradigm shifts are proceeded by the accumulation of evidence which challenges the existing taken-for-granted theoretical model.

      � Secularization theory was the dominant theoretical view of religion in the modern world for most of the 20th century. The last quarter of a the 20th century has seen mounting evidence that challenges this theory.

      � In 1993 Stephen Warner published a lengthly essay in a leading sociological journal which openly pronounced the emergence of a new paradign in the sociology of religion. In this article, Warner wrote:

        "The emerging paradigm begins with the theoretical reflectoin on a fact of U.S. history highly inconvenient to secularization theory: the proportion of the population enrolled in churches grew hugely throughout the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, which,by any measure, were times of rapid modernization."

      � Secularization theory is a long way from being discarded by social scientists of religion, but it is now being openly challenged by many scholars. The challenges come from many directions, but a lending intellectual perspective has been identified as a theory of religious economy This perspective provides much of the intellectual foundation for studying cults and sects as the dynamic forces through which religion is renewed in human cultures.

      Theory of Religious Economy v Secularization.

      The theory of religious economy (also referred to as rational choice theory, or the "new paradigm") does not deny that secularization is a powerful force in the modern world.

      Rather, the new paradigm argues that secularization theory does not adequately explain what has happen in the modern era.

      Scholars of the new paradigm attribute the growth of religious affiliation in the U.S. to the disestablishment clause of the Constitution.

      By radically separating church and state, religious pluralism is encouraged.

        [the Constitution guarantees pluralism]

      In a pluralistic environment, the different religious traditions compete with each other for constituents (members).

        [the result of competition is an expanding religious economy that results in more first expanding the base of participation rather a struggle for the loyality of a fixed number of participants.]

      In cultures where one religious group has a monopoly, religion experiences enthropy.

        [in the absence of competition, monopoly firms have not strong motivation to expand there base of participation; they are more likely to spend resources protecting the monopoly]

      In a competitive religious economy, some firms (deonominations/churches) fare well, others fail to renew and lose ground).

        [even powerfully established religious traditions read a point of stagnation; renewal is frequently achieved through schism]

      The Role of Cults and Sects in the New Paradigm

      The religious economy is invigorated in two important ways:

        sectarian movements: splintering from established religious group create renewal that is generated from within (endogenous);

        cultic movements: a radical departure from established religious traditions within a given religious economy. Cult movements come about as a result of one of three things: (1) importing of new religious ideas from outside the culture, (2) invention by those within a culture tradition, or (3) radical departure of established traditions

      Evidence for the New Paradigm Beyong the Boundries of North America

      Warner ammased much evidence developed by sociologists, historians and economists for in support of the new paradigm. His argument for the new paradigm is cautious in exporting the thesis beyond the boundaries of the North American experience.

      Others have made the case for global application. Hadden, responding to the narrow focus of Warner's paper, summarizes evidence regardomg five major religious movements which together argue for a global application of the theory. Each of these developments has global dimensions and gloval implications. Each movement challanges the efficacy of secularization theory, i.e., secularization theory cannot explain them. Each movement can at least partially be accounted for by the theory of religious economy. There movements are as follows:

        Global Fundamentalism

        Nationalist Movements

        Liberation Theology Movements

        Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements

        Religious Movements in Post-Communists Societies.

      (Read Mr. Hadden's article for an elaboration of this evidence)

      Part V: Select Bibliography

      Finke, Roger and Rodney Stark. 1992.
      The Churching of America: 1776-1990. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univesity Press.

      Hadden, Jeffrey K. 1995.
      "Religion and the Quest fo Meaning and Order: Old Paradigms, New Realities," Sociological Focus, 28:1 (February) pp. 83-100.

      Hadden, Jeffrey K. 1987.
      "Toward Desacralizing Secularization Theory," Social Forces (March)

      Iannaccone, Laurence R. 1991.
      "The Consequences of Religious Market Structure," Rationality and Society . 3: 156-177.

      Jagodzinski, Wolfgang and Andrew Greeley.
      "The Demand for Religion: HArd Core Atheism and 'Supply Side' Theory"

      Kelley, Dean M. 1972.
      Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. New York: Harper and Row.

      Warner, Stephen R. 1993.
      "Works in Progress Toward a New Paradigm for the Sociology of Religion in the United States," American Journal of Sociology.

      Wilson, Bryan. 1985.
      "Secularization: The Inherited Model," in Phillep E. Hammond, The Sacred in a Secular Age. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. pp. 9-20.

      Young, Lawrence A. ed. 1997.
      Rational Choice Theory and Religion. New York: Routledge.

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