Secularization: New Perspectives on an Old Concept
Abstract: The paper discusses the French concept of de-Christianization and the further debates about religious change in Europe between the 18th and 20th century.
The original concept of secularization as a property and authority transfer from church to secular institutions has been gradually extended, mainly through French and Anglo-American historiography. Initially, discussions about the so-called “déchristianisation” played an important role, even though the term has been complemented within many other denominations (la?cisation, de-confessionalization, de-sacralization, de-clericalism, Entkirchlichung). These generally comprised a change of religious attitudes and a shift from traditional church principles and institutions. The discussions of the 1960s–1990s have resulted in a wide conception of secularization as well as different views on the extent, the reasons and the course of the process. It was important, that the historical approaches were highly inspired by the sociological concept of the influence of social factors on religious attitudes. Therefore the paper also discusses basic sociological theories of religious change in modern Europe: secularization, individualization and religious-market theory. Broader attention has also been paid to the work of Niklas Luhmann, i. e. to his functional definition of the secularization process, which has been very influential in recent German historiography. The recent research has asserted a partial relevance of theories of secularization and individualization; however, sociologists have pointed out that we can speak about “Entkirchlichung” or “de-institutionalization”, but by no means about a loss of religious significance. The original concept of secularization is therefore being replaced by a more open question of religious change. And most sociologists and historians have abandoned the former premise that the modernization processes (urbanization, industrialization, increased standards of living, individualization, cultural plurality) must lead to a decline in the social importance of church institutions, systems of faith and religious practices. Czech historians remain in this respect at the very beginning, mainly because of the lack of empirical research.
Key words: Secularization, religious change, Europe, concepts, methodological considerations, sociology and history