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Anthropology Secularization
by
Simon Coleman, Abby Day

Introduction

Put most simply, secularization refers to the notion of a society becoming less religious over time, while secularism refers to the ideological stance that actively wishes to promote the loss of religion in that society. Ideas relating to secularism and secularization have been central to the development of the social sciences since the 19th century, as scholars working in disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and political science have generally assumed that they could understand the workings of human society, even religion itself, through observation and reason rather than faith. However, over the years, there has been considerable lack of agreement over the appropriate criteria to define and measure secularization: Should we see it as fundamentally about lack of personal belief (raising questions as to whether belief can be understood in similar ways across time and across religions) or more about a lack of influence over human behavior? If it is about influence, should this matter be examined at public, institutional levels or also within private, domestic spheres of life? Examining these issues raises difficult but fascinating questions as to how we understand religion—or its absence—in very different cultural contexts. It also raises the key question of whether secularization can be seen as a unilinear and global process. In other words, is it irreversible, and is it universal? There have been differences between sociological and anthropological ways of thinking about such themes. While both disciplines trace roots to social theorists of the 19th century who suggested that the future world would appear less obviously religious, secularization per se proved to be far less of a point of interest for anthropologists for much of the past century. This attitude is striking, given the centrality of the debates to sociologists. The explanation may relate to the tendency of anthropologists to work in non-Western, smaller scale contexts as opposed to Euro-American institutions. However, with the shift of some anthropological attention not only to European and North American contexts but also to institutional elites and indeed to the religious roots of some anthropological thought, the situation has changed, and anthropologists have begun to focus more on what may be meant by secularization and the secular. The timing of this shift is somewhat ironic as, according to some scholars, even parts of the world previously considered to have been secularizing are now experiencing religious revival.

General Overviews

Secularization and secularism are all too easily conceptualized as involving absence, a removal of the influence of religion from all or some spheres of life. This understanding poses as many questions as it answers. For instance, is the experience of becoming “less” Buddhist or Christian the same as becoming less Muslim? Brown and Snape 2010 contributes to a more refined understanding of the apparent disappearance of religion by showing how “de-Christianization” is experienced and proceeds in very different ways in different European countries. This book can be read alongside other texts that complicate an understanding of supposedly the most secular continent in the world. Halman and Draulans 2006 refers to a distinction between belief and practice in suggesting that decline in one may not mean precisely commensurate decline in the other. While it refers to Europe in its analysis, its conclusions have broader implications for examining the religious and secular worldwide. Bullivant and Lee 2012 encourages both a comparative and an interdisciplinary approach in understanding nonreligion and secularity. Meanwhile Garnett, et al. 2006 again points to important questions of measurement in suggesting that we need to develop sensitive methodological tools to assess the presence or absence of religion, and it focuses on one European context, Britain since the end of the Second World War, to make its case. Another way to challenge the idea of secularism as invoking absence is to see it, quite as much as religion, as a culturally constructed category, ideology, and even set of practices. Scherer 2011 (also Hirschkind and Scherer 2011) helps to consider such issues in relation to the work of Talal Asad, while also exploring Asad’s distinction between the secular and secularism, with the latter being seen as a political doctrine. Another influential theorist is discussed in Baldacchino and Kahn 2011, where the work of the Roman Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor (see Taylor 2007, cited under Historicizing Secularization) is examined in an anthropological context. Once again, Taylor can be seen as attacking the idea of mere absence. He opposes the notion that modernity per se is inherently opposed to the presence of religion and argues instead that being religious in plural, global society means that one takes a reflective view of one’s orientation. Religion may be relocated in modernity in relation to individual and social life, but it is not removed. Cannell 2010 provides a useful overview of both Taylor and Asad, while also arguing against the hierarchical and conventionally modernist positioning of religion below the political in significance.

  • Baldacchino, Jean-Paul, and Joel S. Kahn. 2011. Believing in a secular age: Anthropology, sociology and religious experience. Australian Journal of Anthropology 22.1: 1–13.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1757-6547.2011.00106.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Introduction to an issue of Australian Journal of Anthropology that addresses contemporary issues of belief (see Branford 2011, cited under Science; Kahn 2011, cited under Subjective Secularism). Explains how articles are influenced by Charles Taylor’s work concerning the experiential nature of secularism. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Brown, Callum, and Michael Snape, eds. 2010. Secularisation in the Christian world. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

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    A wide-ranging collection of essays addressing the subject of de-Christianization in the West. Bringing together anthropologists, historians, and sociologists, this book provides the space for contributors from several countries to examine the diverse themes that have risen over the past thirty years of study into secularization.

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  • Bullivant, Stephen, and Lois Lee. 2012. Interdisciplinary studies of non-religion and secularity: The state of the union. In Special issue: Non-religion and secularity. Edited by Stephen Bullivant and Lois Lee. Journal of Contemporary Religion 27.1: 19–27.

    DOI: 10.1080/13537903.2012.642707Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Introduction to a special issue on nonreligion and secularity. Brings together views on Europe, North America and Asia and perspectives from sociology, international relations, cognitive anthropology, and religious studies. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Cannell, Fenella. 2010. The anthropology of secularism. Annual Review of Anthropology 39:85–100.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.012809.105039Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses both Talal Asad’s and Charles Taylor’s views of secularism, framing them in the context of wider arguments that argue for the reality of the secular and those that see it as a historically constructed category. Problematizes the tendency in modernity to see the political as more real than the religious. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Garnett, James, Matthew Grimley, Alana Harris, William Whyte, and Sarah Williams, eds. 2006. Redefining Christian Britain: Post 1945 perspectives. London: SCM.

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    The collection explicitly positions itself against the dominant secularization theses advanced by, in particular, quantitative social scientists who are said to have neglected more nuanced and subjective forms of religiosity.

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  • Halman, Loek, and Veerle Draulans. 2006. How secular is Europe? British Journal of Sociology 57.2: 263–288.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2006.00109.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Halman and Draulans argue that declining church attendance does not account for the varying rates and character of European secularization. Using quantitative evidence, they demonstrate the important differences between the decline of religious belief and the decline of religious practice. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hirschkind, Charles, and Matthew Scherer. 2011. Introduction. Cultural Anthropology 26.4: 620.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1360.2011.01114.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Introduction to a set of essays focusing on the critical discourses on secularism. By revisiting political theorist Wiliam E. Connolly’s Why I Am Not a Secularist (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999) and Talal Asad’s Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, and Modernity (see Asad 2003, cited under Challenges to the Secularization Thesis), the essays (see Scherer 2011) trace new trajectories for work on modern secularism. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Scherer, Matthew. 2011. Landmarks in the critical study of secularism. Cultural Anthropology 26.4: 621–632.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1360.2011.01115.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Scherer poses several questions aimed at drawing out the most important arguments in Connolly (see Connolly 2011, cited under Ideology) and in Asad’s landmark works. These arguments explore issues such as the fundamental nature of secularism, its relation to Christianity, and its status as a modernizing process. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Ethnographies

While secularization (as a process) usually describes the disappearance or attenuation of the influence of religion, and secularism (as an ideology) tends actively to promote such a process, ethnographies of the secular attempt to produce fine-grained, highly contextualized accounts of how the secular is realized as ideology, practice, or process. As a result, ethnography as a method is likely to produce rich yet in some respects contradictory perspectives on the meaning of the secular, as well as providing comparative data indicating that black and white views of the presence or absence of religion are likely to be too simplistic. Thus Bubandt and Van Beek 2011 suggests that multiple secularisms exist—much as others have argued for the existence of multiple forms of modernity. Jennings, et al. 2010 in effect conflates the categories of the religious and secular in this study of how a martial art is perceived in the United Kingdom, and at a different level Navaro-Yashin 2002 indicates parallels between secular and religious ideologies in the context of the Turkish state (compare with Tambar 2009). Buckser 2003 also provides a highly nuanced account, showing the interweaving of Jewish identity with a Lutheran background but also in some respects secular, Scandinavian country over two centuries or so. Bowen 2010 and Engelke 2009 trace the practical ways in which religious actors seek for recognition in what they and others perceive as secular conditions, while George 2009 analyzes how Muslim actors seek for recognition of their views in the context of what they see as explicitly secular misrecognition and misappropriation of their religion.

  • Bowen, John R. 2010. Can Islam be French? Pluralism and pragmatism in a secularist state. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    With reference to empirical case studies, presents the ways in which various Islamic actors are attempting to adapt their religious traditions to French secular conditions. Also see the State and Religion.

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  • Bubandt, Nils Ole, and Martijn Van Beek, eds. 2011. Varieties of secularism in Asia: Anthropological explorations of religion, politics and the spiritual. London: Routledge.

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    An ethnographically rich anthology that explores issues surrounding secularism in socio-political life. Building on the work of Charles Taylor and Talal Asad, Bubandt and Van Beek explore a variety of relations between modernity and spirituality that have become possible in Asia, thus presenting a case for the existence of multiple secularisms.

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  • Buckser, Andrew. 2003. After the rescue: Jewish identity and community in contemporary Denmark. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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    Readable ethnography of the recent history and fragmentation of a Jewish community in a society conventionally perceived as highly secular.

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  • Engelke, Matthew. 2009. Strategic secularism: Bible advocacy in England. In Special issue: Contemporary religiosities: Emergent socialities and the post-nation-state. Edited by Bruce Kapferer, Annelin Eriksen, and Kari Telle. Social Analysis 53.1: 39–51.

    DOI: 10.3167/sa.2009.530103Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gives an ethnographically informed account of how religious organizations harness secularism to further their particular agendas. Available online for purchase or by subscription. Also see Ideology.

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  • George, Kenneth M. 2009. Ethics, iconoclasm, and Qur’anic art in Indonesia. Cultural Anthropology 24.4: 589–621.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1360.2009.01041.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the consequences of using the Qur’an for aesthetic, seemingly secular purposes in relation both to the fashion industry and painting. Argues that the resultant moral panics reveal some of the ethicopolitical claims and power relations—both secular and religious—surrounding Islamic visual culture. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Jennings, George, David Brown, and Andrew C. Sparkes. 2010. “It can be a religion if you want”: Wing Chun Kung Fu as a secular religion. Ethnography 11.4: 533–557.

    DOI: 10.1177/1466138110372588Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on ethnography carried out in England, engagingly explores how a martial art functions as a secular religious practice for some of its members. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Navaro-Yashin, Yael. 2002. Faces of the state: Secularism and public life in Turkey. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    An ethnographic study of political culture and the contemporary Turkish state, deploying both post-structuralist and psychoanalytic theory. Also see the State and Religion.

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  • Tambar, Kabir. 2009. Secular populism and the semiotics of the crowd in Turkey. Public Culture 21.3: 517–537.

    DOI: 10.1215/08992363-2009-006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines how secularist rallies in Turkey in 2007 contrast significantly with state-driven secular movements experienced previously in traditionally Islamic countries. Argues that not only is it important for democratic procedures to vindicate secularism, but that secularism must give rise to a new form of democracy in Turkey. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Historicizing Secularization

The concept of secularization implies a notion of historical process, either of movement from one religious status to another (e.g., from religious to secular) or a more complex set of transformations in which the directions of religious commitment and practice may be unclear. For the social sciences, historical analysis presents an opportunity for comparative analysis, as revealed in Asad 1993, a highly influential tracing of the “genealogies” of religion in an approach that reveals intellectual traces of the French philosopher Michel Foucault. Asad 1993 demonstrates the power relations lying behind attempts to define a transhistorical entity that one might call religion. It also shows how the idealized separation of politics from religion, evident in many academic as well as religious characterizations of the modern West, leads us to see Muslim religious discourse in the public realm as merely disguising a real agenda, that of obtaining political power. Asad’s intellectual trajectory is discussed in Scott and Hirschkind 2006, while his insistence on a focus on the details and assumptions of different historical epochs is echoed in both Biale 2011 and Bilgrami 2011. Owen Chadwick is a highly distinguished historian of ecclesiastical history as well as an ordained priest in the Church of England. Chadwick 1975, more focused on recent Christian history than Asad, provides an intellectual, institutional, and social overview of what it sees as the decline in the Church’s influence while showing how such writers as Marx, Darwin, and John Stuart Mill played their part in the story of attenuating religious authority. Davie 2000 provides one way of challenging the assumption of linear historical movement by arguing that secularization may itself belong to a particular period of history; Shiner 1967 attacks the very idea of a single process of secularization (much as Asad denies that we can think of a single entity called “religion”). Gellner 2001 provides an interesting mediating viewpoint between views in accepting that a linear view of the development of secularity is problematic but still identifying the secularization of institutions (while also providing a much wider geographical purview than Chadwick or Davie). Taylor 2007, like the classic Asad 1993, indicates a shift toward religious pluralism in the modern world but again complicates any assumptions of a consistent move toward the absence of religion in modernity or even postmodernity.

  • Asad, Talal. 1993. Genealogies of religion: Discipline and reasons of power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    A classic study using historical analysis both to show how definitions and understandings of religion have changed over time and to trace the history and politics of the Western, liberal separation of religion from power. Complicates notions of the secular while indicating how Western constructions of religion result in misleading characterizations of Islam.

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  • Biale, David. 2011. Not in the heavens. The tradition of Jewish secular thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Offers important insights into how what might be regarded as contemporary Jewish thought is deeply located in history. Through analyzing the Bible, medieval philosophy, and modern political activists, the book shows how secular thinking is dependent on religious narratives and other religious patterns.

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  • Bilgrami, Akeel. 2011. Secularism: Its content and context. Working paper, Social Science Research Council.

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    Argues that secularism’s point and meaning are to be found not in decontextualized philosophical argument but in looking at contexts with specific historical trajectories and with specific political goals.

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  • Chadwick, Owen. 1975. The secularization of the European mind in the nineteenth century: The Gifford lectures in the University of Edinburgh for 1973–1974. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Useful intellectual and social history of the declining role of the Church in European society by a leading scholar.

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  • Davie, Grace. 2000. Religion in modern Europe: A memory mutates. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Explores the argument that secularization is not a necessary part of modernization but may instead belong to a particular period of European history.

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  • Gellner, David N. 2001. Studying secularism, practising secularism: Anthropological imperatives. Social Anthropology 9.3: 337–340.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8676.2001.tb00160.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Accepts that the strong secularization thesis predicting a unilinear evolution from religious belief to rationality and consumerism was naïve. Argues however that a trend exists for the role, power, scope, and influence of religious institutions to be in decline. Examines historically conditioned examples of secularism in Nepal, India, and Japan. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Scott, David, and Charles Hirschkind, eds. 2006. Powers of the secular modern: Talal Asad and his interlocutors. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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    Essays addressing key issues that have arisen from Talal Asad’s critical explorations of Western disciplines and engaging with his examinations of the historical shifts that have contributed to the relation between the religious and the secular. Ends with a section from Asad summarizing his intellectual growth and influences.

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  • Shiner, Larry. 1967. The concept of secularization in empirical research. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 6.2: 207–220.

    DOI: 10.2307/1384047Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines secularization’s history and outlines several definitions of the concept. Concludes that these varying definitions mean that social scientists should abandon secularization as a general term and instead consider it as referring to several different processes. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Taylor, Charles. 2007. A secular age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    In this account of the rise of secularism in the West, Taylor examines the shift from a society in which it was impossible not to believe in God to one in which a belief in God is one of several options facing individuals. It is not simply the decline of religion but the increase in both religious and antireligious options that defines the secular world.

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Secularization and Society

The most dominant secularization theses examine large-scale social changes. Others draw on more individualized, subjective narratives to suggest why people are becoming less religious. Anthropologists have not engaged with the analysis of secularization as extensively as have sociologists. When, however, they do turn explicitly to the debate, they often rely on the same starting point for their theories, namely issues of meaning and modernity. Like sociologists, anthropologists tend to cite sociological theories drawing at least implicitly on Weber with tones of disenchantment, alienation, hyperrationality, and bureaucratization. Wilson 1966, written by a sociologist who has engaged in some debate with anthropology, focuses on societal differentiation more than on religion’s disappearance, arguing that as societies become more modern and complex traditionally religious functions are assumed by secular institutions and religion begins to lose its public influence. This loss of influence leads to secularization and, Wilson 2001 argues, a progressive demoralization of society (but see Zuckerman 2008 for a counterargument). Berger 1982 questions a straightforward reading of modernity’s effects but nonetheless supports the premise that secularization leads to religious and moral pluralism, particularly by being promoted by members of what the author calls the “knowledge class.” Bruce 2011 summarizes decades of research that corroborate the author’s own data and Wilson’s data supporting the theory that modernity leads to secularization and that progressive losses of religious practices and values over time compound the pattern and reinforce the trend. In this view, pluralism and individualization challenge the plausibility and authority of a single truth claim and successive generations become less religious. Secularization, as discussed in Bruce 2011, Berger 1982, and Wilson 2001, is the displacement of religion from the center of human life, at least if religion is defined substantively as actions and institutions based on beliefs in transcendent, moral power. In industrialized societies, the thesis argues, social-structural differentiation displaces religion as people gain comfort from therapy rather than from God. Anthropologists’ works such as Ackerman 1993 confirm the effects of large-scale patterns of secularization introduced by colonialism but show how the protected Malay population experiences the process differently. Local variations are also explored in Voas and McAndrew 2012. Purcell 2009 reviews two works on Islam and secularism, criticizing the authors for insufficiently exploring nuances, particularly involving what is understood as private and public religiosity. The challenge for scholars, it concludes, is to understand secularization in the context of globalization.

  • Ackerman, Sarah. 1993. Rebuilding sacred worlds: Lay-oriented Buddhist and Catholic reformism in Malaysia. Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 8.1: 128–152.

    DOI: 10.1355/SJ8-1FSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In a comparatively rare cross-cultural comparison of the secularization thesis, Ackerman shows how a Western European, colonial model distributed a modern, capitalist and secularized consciousness unevenly amongst the Malaysian population resulting in what she describes as a dialectic of disenchantment and reenchantment of the world. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Berger, Peter. 1982. From the crisis of religion to the crisis of secularity. In Religion and America: Spirituality in a secular age. Edited by Mary Douglas and Steven M. Tipton, 14–24. Boston: Beacon.

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    Criticizes Enlightenment theories of religion that state that society must become less religious as it becomes more modern. Argues that modernity may not be as antagonistic to religion as had earlier been thought.

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  • Bruce, Steve. 2011. Secularization, in defence of an unfashionable theory. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Self-confessed positivist and quantitative social scientist, Bruce reiterates his position and summarizes key works, offering excellent value in this slim volume for those not acquainted with his unequivocal stand on the modernity-equals-secularization thesis.

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  • Purcell, Bridget. 2009. Transcendence and tradition: Two attempts to revive the concept of the secular. Anthropological Quarterly 82.3: 821–836.

    DOI: 10.1353/anq.0.0083Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews recent works of Olivier Roy and Abdullahi Ahmed Abn-Na’im on Islam and secularism and discusses whether secularization can be acultural and universal and not necessarily rooted in theories about modernity. The authors’ different analytical models need several corrections, Purcell concludes, but contribute to a developing tool-kit with which to understand globalization. Available online by subscription.

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  • Voas, David, and Siobhan McAndrew. 2012. Three puzzles of non-religion in Britain. In Special Issue: Non-religion and Secularity. Edited by Stephen Bullivant and Lois Lee. Journal of Contemporary Religion 27.1: 29–48.

    DOI: 10.1080/13537903.2012.642725Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ostensibly about Britain but providing wider methodological and theoretical considerations in examining influences of gender, demography, and socio-economic differences in influencing attitudes to religion and nonreligion. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Wilson, Bryan R. 1966. Religion in secular society: A sociological comment. London: Watts.

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    Has become a classic starting position on debates, advancing the argument that a secular society is one in which religion has lost its influence, rather than wholly disappeared.

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  • Wilson, Bryan R. 2001. Salvation, secularization, and de-moralization. In The Blackwell companion to sociology of religion. Edited by Richard K. Fenn, 39–51. Oxford: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631212416.2001.00005.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contends that religion influences moral behavior and that altered family structures lead to reduced transmission of moral values. That, combined with increasing options for religious choice, weakens religion’s monopoly in society.

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  • Zuckerman, Phil. 2008. Society without God: What the least religious nations can tell us about contentment. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    After living with nonreligious Scandinavians for a year, Zuckerman concludes that secular society can be happy and healthy. Based on interviews and participant observation, the book offers helpful commentary on some of the, largely American, secularization and antisecularization arguments.

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Challenges to the Secularization Thesis

Anthropologists accepted more readily than sociologists the idea that degrees of religiosity vary over place and time, and therefore they were not at the forefront of the backlash against secularization theory that began in sociology in the 1970s. Leading the sociological move to destabilize theories of secularization, Martin 1978 unravels some of the complex strands within the theory. Variations in societal religiosity were not, it argues, wholly linked to modernity and its inherent assumptions about rationality and evolution but were features of how societies responded to diversity and pluralism. Berger 1999, the author of which is well-known for his general acceptance in the 1970s of the standard secularization thesis, turns to theories of variation with essays that followed the example of Martin 1978 in locating religion in particular contexts, thus countering arguments that societal trends toward modernity would inevitably lead to secularization. Similar issues are faced in Casanova 1994 and Davie 1994, these seminal works each mirroring each other’s argument that religion has not disappeared but altered in significance and place. It had become, according to Casanova 1994, a medium for other public conflicts such as ethnicity while its role as transcendent, theistic religion had retreated into the private domain. Davie 1994 advances a similar proposition, saying that British people retained theistic beliefs privately but refrained from participating in public manifestations of religion such as attending church. It is therefore more accurate to describe them as unchurched rather than secular. Davie 1994 locates religiosity not only in the private domain but even more specifically within geographical areas. The perceived secularization of Europe is a unique phenomenon, it claims. Later, Davie 2007 argues that religiosity is often performed vicariously on behalf of an apparently secular public. A significant anthropological contribution, Asad 2003, problematizes the notion of secularism itself by demonstrating how it is a doctrine, not an empirical fact, with shifts in definitions provoked by historical, cultural, and disciplinary changes. Riley 2010 challenges conventional secularization theory by analyzing what it termed the quasi-religious nature of intellectual thought since Durkheim. An interesting counterpoint to the specificities of cultural characteristics is made in Roy 2007, which argues that Islam is a global and globalizing religion, transcending any mundane boundaries of place and time (but see a review of Roy in Purcell 2009, cited under Secularization and Society).

  • Asad, Talal. 2003. Formations of the secular: Christianity, Islam, modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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    A classic collection of essays orientated toward the provocative notion that anthropologists have yet to appropriately examine secularism in the context of modernity. Asad argues that an anthropology of secularism needs to reflect on the various historical shifts that have developed the doctrine and practice of secularism.

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  • Berger, Peter L., ed. 1999. The desecularization of the world: Resurgent religion and world politics. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

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    Collection of mainly sociological essays presenting one of the first of many counterpoints to the generally accepted secularization theses that had dominated most studies on religion in the latter half of the 20th century.

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  • Casanova, José. 1994. Public religions in the modern world. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Advancing one of the most-cited analyses of contemporary religion, argues that religion has returned to the realm of politics as a medium for ethnic and social conflicts and has since gained in public visibility.

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  • Davie, Grace. 1994. Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without belonging. Oxford: Blackwell.

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    Davie’s believing without belonging thesis argues that most of the British population retains religious beliefs in God and heaven while not supporting mainstream churches through regular attendance.

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  • Davie, Grace. 2007. Vicarious religion: A methodological challenge. In Everyday religion: Observing modern religious lives. Edited by Nancy T. Ammerman, 21–36. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195305418.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Europeans are not so much secularized as unchurched, believing vicariously through others, such as church leaders, who believe on their behalf. Davie suggests that her theory does not apply to the United States where religion is more a matter of active membership and participation.

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  • Martin, David. 1978. A general theory of secularization. Oxford: Blackwell.

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    Challenges the standard modernity-equals-secularization model by analyzing the historical patterns of religiosity cross culturally and concluding that secularization is neither linear nor inevitable but relates to degrees of pluralism and differentiation in different societies at different times.

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  • Riley, Alexander T. 2010. Godless intellectuals? The intellectual pursuit of the sacred reinvented. Oxford: Berghahn.

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    Challenges the idea that such figures as Durkheim, Mauss, Hubert, and Hertz can be seen as purely secular thinkers, suggesting that they had closer connections with religion than has been thought.

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  • Roy, Olivier. 2007. Secularism confronts Islam. Translated by George Holoch. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Argues that a globalizing Islam is becoming more purely religious, transcending any particular culture and moving away from influencing secular politics. Criticizes essentialist characterizations of both Islam and Western culture.

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Subjective Secularism

Where does the secular reside? In the minds of academics, politicians, religious leaders, or the average lay person? The place of the secular, real or imagined, is contested territory. One location that seems to be more tantalizing than most is that of the mind, or heart, as some might have it. This form of the secular is aptly described as “subjective secularization” in Berger 1967 and is fueled, it argues, specifically by the pluralistic, post-Enlightenment nature of modern societies that has replaced religious belief with scientific rationalism. In this view, it is the internalized weakening of plausibility structures that turns people increasingly from religion. And yet, scholarly works such as Luckmann 1967 suggest religious belief remains in the individual consciousness, experienced through a sense of transcendence, even while it is rendered invisible. The general argument of the subjective secularism theorists is that large-scale societal shifts are only part of the story of secularization: What really counts is what people believe, think, or feel about religion. Convincing as the argument is, one sometimes hears the voice of Asad (see Asad 1993, cited under Historicizing Secularization) warning us that a move to interiorize and render religion invisible as belief can be seen as a defensive strategy in response to scientific rationalism. Baldacchino and Kahn 2011 introduces an edited collection for the Australian Journal of Anthropology. Contributed articles, including Kahn 2011, which discusses what lies between the secular and religious, examine how scholars from several different disciplinary perspective explore ideas advanced by the philosopher Charles Taylor (and see also Schwarz 2011 on revisiting Taylor). Taylor’s theory (see Taylor 2007, cited under Historicizing Secularization) implies that while people may appear to be secular, their quest for personal meaning and moral community is only wholly fulfilled by religion. Douglas 1982 also takes an interdisciplinary approach, suggesting that religious studies scholars think that religion is good for people, while anthropologists tend not to make that assumption. According to Douglas 1982, scholars following a subjectivity thesis are implicitly Weberian, assuming that people are searching for meaning, theodicy, and the integrating function that religion is said to provide. The function of belief, however, is not always so straightforward or interchangeable with truth or doctrine. Sometimes it is surprising how even the most visible and public Christians, such as those of Evangelical traditions, depend on their relationships with each other, as well as with God (see Elisha 2008).

  • Baldacchino, Jean-Paul, and Joel S. Kahn. 2011. Believing in a secular age: Anthropology, sociology and religious experience. Australian Journal of Anthropology 22.1: 1–13.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1757-6547.2011.00106.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Asks what it is like to believe (or not believe) in the context of the modern world. Available online for purchase or by subscription. Also see General Overviews.

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  • Berger, Peter L. 1967. The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociological theory of religion. New York: Doubleday.

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    Introduces the reader to influential disappearance theories. What Berger describes as “subjective secularization” is a state of mind privileging rationality. Belief in a “sacred canopy” of divine power requires social consensus and is therefore threatened by pluralism.

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  • Douglas, Mary. 1982. The effects of modernization on religious change. In Religion and America: Spirituality in a secular age. Edited by Mary Douglas and Steven M. Tipton, 25–43. Boston: Beacon.

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    Argues that the real challenge of being modern is not any reduced possibility of being religious but rather increased opportunities in making inquiries about and viewing the self in a reflexive, comparative way.

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  • Elisha, Omri. 2008. Faith beyond belief: Evangelical protestant conceptions of faith and the resonance of anti-humanism. In Special issue: Against belief? Edited by Galina Lindquist and Simon Coleman. Social Analysis 52.1: 56–78.

    DOI: 10.3167/sa.2008.520104Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Elucidates the relation between belief and faith in the context of evangelical Christianity. Emphasizes the important role that intersubjective faith, as opposed to doctrinal belief, plays in the lives of American evangelicals. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Kahn, Joel S. 2011. Understanding: Between belief and unbelief. Australian Journal of Anthropology 22.1: 76–88.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1757-6547.2011.00108.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for the possibility of a conversation between secular and religious orientations rather than the simple acceptance that they refer to different spheres of reasoning. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Luckmann, Thomas. 1967. The invisible religion: The problem of religion in modern society. London: Collier-Macmillan.

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    Advancing a similar argument as Berger 1967, Luckmann proposes that modernity brings greater choice and freedom with people acting to “buy” and privately consume the religion of their choice.

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  • Schwarz, Regina. 2011. Secularism, Belief, and Truth. The Immanent Frame.

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    Discusses what a “strong secularism” might look like in contemporary society. Drawing on the works of Charles Taylor, Schwarz advocates a mode of secularism that actively guarantees tolerance toward different beliefs, as opposed to merely acting as a passive container for other “strong beliefs.”

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Gendering Secularization

Several authors have begun to consider the relation between the secular and the religious from the perspective of women, who are often rendered less visible in public and, arguably, in social scientific discourse (see Bowie 2006). As so much debate about the secular hinges on concepts of private and public, it becomes important to challenge imagined distinctions between public/private and, as Secular Europe, headscarves and identity suggests, religion/secular. In a debate, Henkel 2009 draws attention to this distinction particularly in the context of Muslim women who may be perceived by non-Muslims as threatening when they emerge into public wearing the veil but not, as this work pointedly adds, when they remain indoors sweeping our floors or cooking food. It is necessary to recognize that there is no one public sphere or even a single secular public sphere, as Henkel 2009 reminds: Instead, there are a myriad of interests struggling to gain voice and influence in complex socio-political struggles. Women may serve to distract attention from that wider debate as, according to this work, they become public, visible, and demanding through their own efforts and successes. On the theme of public/private distinctions, Woodhead 2008 draws attention to one strand of the secularization thesis that has been advanced by many scholars since Weber, namely, that modernity causes secularization. That argument rests on ideas about large-scale shifts in industrialization and paid employment, something largely experienced by men but not women. Woodhead 2007 specifically focuses on religion as power and suggests theoretical pathways to understand its relation to gender. Brown 2001 advances a rare consideration of women’s role in accelerating a process of secularization, where they are seen to reject the role of pious, feminized women apparently foisted on them by the dominant discourse of Christianity. As women in Euro-American countries joined the 1960s revolt against authority and conservatism, they simultaneously left the churches and mainstream Christianity. In comparison, note Swanson 1988, which explains the shifting women’s roles that occurred through missionary interventions. Departing from the focus on religious women in both public and academic debate, Fernando 2009 turns attention to secular Muslim women who actively campaigned in favor of French legislation banning the veil and, in so doing, buttressed government attempts to blame Islam for problems rather than highlighting the state’s own economic problems and failure to reconcile French values with globalization. A wider and critical view of secularization from the perspective of women in the West is offered in an international collection edited by Aune, et al. 2008. See also Ben-Rafael, et al. 2006 (cited under the State and Religion).

  • Aune, Kristin, Sonya Sharma, and Giselle Vincett, eds. 2008. Women and religion in the West: Challenging secularization. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

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    A collection arising from a conference organized by Socrel, the British Sociological Association’s study group, and organized around three sections: Christianity, alternative spiritualities, and Islam. Contributions, mainly qualitative, are contemporary and cross cultural.

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  • Bowie, Fiona. 2006. The anthropology of religion. Oxford: Blackwell.

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    Covering a wide range of topics in anthropology, stresses the importance of recognizing women’s voices and experiences, arguing that these are often silenced by men in cultures being studied and by the anthropologists studying them.

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  • Brown, Callum G. 2001. The death of Christian Britain. London: Routledge.

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    Departs from social science convention here by privileging female over male agency: Women rejected the dominant Christian discourse of female piety and left the institution in vast numbers, reducing Christianity’s influence in society.

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  • Fernando, Mayanthi. 2009. Exceptional citizens: Secular Muslim women and the politics of difference in France. In Special issue: “Muslim women” in Europe. Edited by Annelies Moors and Ruba Salih. Social Anthropology 17.3: 379–392.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8676.2009.00081.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on the fate of “secular Muslim” women in the French public sphere. Argues that the dual imperatives of French republicanism, to universalize and particularize, prevents secular Muslim women from ever achieving full republican citizenship; they are trapped between poles of difference and nondifference. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Henkel, Heiko. 2009. Are Muslim women in Europe threatening the secular public sphere? In Special issue: “Muslim women” in Europe. Edited by Annelies Moors and Ruba Salih. Social Anthropology 17.4: 471–473.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8676.2009.00086_1.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Beginning argument to a debate held by Heiko Henkel and Thijl Sunier (see pp. 473–479 of the same issue for remarks between Sunier and Henkel) concerning the perceived threat of Muslim women to a secular European public sphere. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Secular Europe, headscarves and identity. 2010. Material Religion 6.1: 111.

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    The editors invite Annelies Moors and Shabana Mir (see pp. 112–114 and pp. 115–116 of the same issue) to respond to Birgit Meyer, David Morgan, Crispin Paine, and S. Brent Plate as they discuss head coverings in Europe. Moors states that French and Dutch attitudes toward Islamic veiling ignore the variety with which Muslim women address this tradition. Mir contends that French concerns over Muslim women’s clothing constitute frustration toward a visible form of racialized Islam. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Swanson, Herbert R. 1988. A new generation: Missionary education and changes in women’s roles in traditional northern Thai society. Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 3.2: 187–206.

    DOI: 10.1355/SJ3-2DSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Motivated mainly by ideals of their own American, Presbyterian, middle-class backgrounds, missionaries to Northern Thailand in the late 19th century evangelized through educating Thai women, with the unintended consequence of secularizing education, expanding Thai women’s roles, and throwing the female missionaries’ own lack of status into sharp relief. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Woodhead, Linda. 2007. Gender differences in religious practice and significance. In The SAGE handbook of the sociology of religion. Edited by James Beckford and N. J. Demerath III, 566–586. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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    Takes a critical opposition to studies that emphasize difference and negotiation and may therefore mask unequal distributions of power and ignore religion itself as a system of power. The breadth of examples from both mainstream and marginal Euro American religions provides a rich range with which to examine relations between secular and sacred power and consider a new theory of gender and power. Available online by subscription.

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  • Woodhead, Linda. 2008. Gendering secularization theory. Social Compass 55.2: 187–193.

    DOI: 10.1177/0037768607089738Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    That women are apparently more religious than men yet have been leaving organized religion in large numbers during the last fifty years presents a puzzle best explained, Woodhead argues, through recognizing the importance of religious and secular spheres that emphasize women’s dual roles of paid employee and unpaid domestic laborer in modern society. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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The State and Religion

In 1648 a number of parties in Europe came together to sign a series of peace treaties making up the Peace of Westphalia. The immediate result of the treaties was to end the Thirty Years’ War in the Holy Roman Empire as well as the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and the Dutch Republic. A wider consequence was arguably the establishment of a modern concept of statehood and an acceptance that Christians living in nations where their denomination was in a minority would nevertheless have the right to practice their faith. Some commentators see here a separation between religious and political affiliation and the recognition of the secular duties of both state and citizen. In the 20th century, a number of different models of the secular state have existed. At one extreme lay that of the explicitly antireligious, Soviet state, even if some have argued that Communism developed its own forms of religion-like ritual and iconographies. More complex attitudes are expressed in Britain, described in Woodhead 2012, where the welfare state has taken over some but not all of the functions of religion since the Second World War. In France, the consequences of past revolutions coexist with the remnants of a Roman Catholic hegemony as well as more recent immigrants from Muslim contexts. The consequences of French secularism in the public sphere, particularly in relation to Islam, are explored in this section by numerous works, including Bowen 2010, Fernando 2009 (cited under Gendering Secularization), and Fernando 2010. French worries over the participation of Islam in the public sphere contrast somewhat with An-Na’im 2008, which advocates for participation in all spheres of life. More comparative perspectives on Muslims interacting with secular and Christian Europe are provided in Henkel 2009. This section also includes work that explores other rather different examples of the secularist state. Navaro-Yashin 2002 examines Turkey, a country whose ambiguous position in relation to the European Union is partially a result of its predominantly Muslim population and yet one where secularity or laicism was introduced in 1928. In fact, Navaro-Yashin 2002, a sophisticated analysis, indicates that religionists and secularists may share some political orientations to the state. Nandy 1992, meanwhile, warns against assuming that Western models of secularism are appropriate for other parts of the world such as India. A similar warning could be made in considering the possibilities for a single Jewish identity among Jews whether they live in Israel or Europe. A recognition of multiple identities provides more fruitful analysis in Ben-Rafael, et al. 2006.

  • An-Na’im, Abdullahi Ahmed. 2008. Islam and the secular state: Negotiating the future of Shari’a. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Argues that the existence of a secular state serves Islam because it promotes freedom of choice. At the same time, writing as a Muslim, An-Na’im opposes any form of secularism that would restrict Islam from participation in public life.

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  • Ben-Rafael, Eliezer, Thomas Gergely, and Yosef Gorney, eds. 2006. Jewry between tradition and secularism: Europe and Israel compared. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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    Part of the Brill series Jewish Identities in a Changing World, it presents chapters drawing on mixed methods and cultural locations to examine Jewish identity as multiple and changing but relative to ideas of collective identity. Its two chapters on the experience of women make it complementary reading to works on gender cited in Gendering Secularization.

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  • Bowen, John. 2010. Can Islam be French? Pluralism and pragmatism in a secularist state. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Concludes that the convergence of French legal norms and Islamic values depends on both sides, religious and secular, adopting a certain degree of social pragmatism. Also see Ethnographies.

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  • Fernando, Mayanthi L. 2010. Reconfiguring freedom: Muslim piety and the limits of secular law and public discourse in France. American Ethnologist 37.1: 19–35.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2010.01239.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines how pious Muslim French women reconcile secular oppositions between personal autonomy and religious authority. Focusing on the 2004 law banning headscarves in French public schools, demonstrates how secular law is unable to countenance such religious commitments while public discourse renders them incomprehensible. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Henkel, Heiko. 2009. Are Muslim women in Europe threatening the secular public sphere? Social Anthropology 17.4: 471–473.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8676.2009.00086_1.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Initial conversation in a debate between Henkel and Thijl Sunier (see pp. 473–479 for remarks between Henkel and Sunier). Characterizes both the nature of the secular public sphere in Europe and its relation with Muslim women. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Nandy, Ashis. 1992. The politics of secularism and the recovery of religious tolerance. In Mirrors of violence: Communities, riots and survivors in South Asia. Edited by Veena Das, 69–93. Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Adopting an overtly antisecularist stance toward the issue of religious tolerance in India, argues that the Western concept of secularism used by the middle classes and intellectuals has been complicit in religious violence. Calls for a Gandhian form of religious tolerance.

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  • Navaro-Yashin, Yael. 2002. Faces of the state: Secularism and public life in Turkey. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Explores the ways in which supporters of secularism and Islamism in Turkey share a political culture of “statism,” where all compete to define Turkish culture in relation to their own practices. Also see Ethnographies.

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  • Woodhead, Linda. 2012. Introduction. In Religion and change in modern Britain. Edited by Linda Woodhead and Rebecca Catto, 1–33. London: Routledge.

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    Examines the changing role of religion in Britain since 1945, particularly in relation to the waxing and waning of the welfare state.

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Secular Rituals and Practices

A secular ritual, according to Warbur 2009, differs from a religious ritual through lacking a reference to the transcendent. Religious symbols are sometimes used in secular rituals, as in the Danish high school graduation ceremonies the author studied, leading Warbur 2009 to conclude that such events are examples of civil religion, in other words idealizations of attachment to the nation. Zitzewitz 2008 explores how Hindu sacred iconic symbols are incorporated into secular art as cultural rather than religious signs. Following the tendency to blur sacred and secular boundaries, Benovska-Sabkova 2010 examines the post-Soviet Russian practice of reburying anonymous soldiers in acts of remembering, reverence, and reconciliation. Douglas 2003 writes against a tendency of sociology of religion to dismiss ritual as an empty gesture incompatible with modernity or to assume that the condensed symbols of Christianity’s sacraments operate any differently from magical symbols. The primacy of ritual is reinforced in Sosis 2007, which studies Israeli women’s responses to terrorist threats during the Second Palestinian Intifada. Through quantitative analysis, unusual in anthropology, this work finds that Jewish religious rituals are more efficacious than religious beliefs in reducing anxiety, even among the secular who may engage with them as a culturally familiar practice. Gable 2002, an ethnographic account from West Africa, shows how secular and religious practices sometimes overlap as the boys it studies enact, amend, and subvert religious ritual. Through acts of embodied and apparently secular play they are both parodying and appropriating religion. Gable 2002 critiques a tendency among anthropologists to pursue theories of persistence rather than decline or variation, or, as the author finds, acts of both making and unmaking belief. Another interpretation of embodied ritual draws on Joan Scott’s notion of “sexularism” developed here in Verkaaik and Spronk 2011 to explore what it describes as everyday productions of power relations. The authors show how sexual norms (although not always sexual realities) are implicated in projects of nation building as they become translated into policies and educational programs targeted at immigrants. A project of integration through education involves promoting tolerance of sexularized ways of dressing or behaving. Imposition of secular norms also occurs through the language of both the religious institution and the secular courtroom, according to Fenn 1982. Fenn 1982 observes how Christian liturgies became more secularized by amendments that mirror pluralism in society and how court cases about rights to life and rights to pacifism subsume religious language into more neutral, secular discourse.

  • Benovska-Sabkova, Milena. 2010. Martyrs and heroes: The religious and secular worship of the dead in post-Soviet Russia. Ethnologia Europaea 40.1: 42–57.

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    Based on field research carried out in the city of Kaluga, explores the parallels and intersections of religious and secular activities in commemorating the dead. Reburials of anonymous soldiers who died during the Second World War and commemorations of special heroes of the Soviet period were performed by religious and secular institutions and met their twin aims of remembering the past and revisioning the future.

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  • Douglas, Mary. 2003. Away from ritual. In Natural symbols: Explorations in cosmology. 3d ed. Edited by Mary Douglas, 1–20. London: Routledge.

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    Argues against the common idea that secularism is a product of modernity or the city, stating instead that it is a particular kind of cosmology, emergent from certain forms of social experience that may be found in very different cultural contexts. Originally published in 1970.

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  • Fenn, Richard K. 1982. Liturgies and trials: The secularization of religious language. Oxford: Blackwell.

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    Describes a process of secularization through language, which is said to reduce religion to claims of personal and therefore unverifiable authenticity. Examines how religious utterances relating to such questions as the right to end life and the burning of draft cards fare in the context of institutions in secular society.

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  • Gable, Eric. 2002. Beyond belief? Play, scepticism, and religion in a West African village. Social Anthropology 10.1: 41–56.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8676.2002.tb00045.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on ethnographic experiences in Guinea-Bissau, demonstrates how West African youths use religious “play” both to promote skepticism toward traditional religions and to reappropriate these religions to their particular generational contexts. Concludes that religious play can both make and unmake belief. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Sosis, Richard. 2007. Psalms for safety: Magico-religious responses to threats of terror. Current Anthropology 48.6: 903–911.

    DOI: 10.1086/523015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Classic anthropological theory suggests people experiencing increased anxiety during the Second Palestinian Intifada turned increasingly to magic or religion. Sosis finds significant variation in beliefs and practices of women and confirms the mental health benefits of religious ritual. Even secular women were calmed by psalm recital. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Verkaaik, Oskar, and Rachel Spronk. 2011. Sexular practice: Notes on an ethnography of secularism. Focaal 59:83–88.

    DOI: 10.3167/fcl.2011.590106Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that anthropology has neglected to examine secularism as cultural practice, and has instead focused on it as discourse. Therefore focuses on secularization by asking how people in Europe fashion their daily lives concerning sexuality, religion and their intimate intersection.

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  • Warbur, Margit. 2009. Graduation in Denmark: Secular ritual and civil religion. Journal of Ritual Studies 23:31–42.

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    Examines traditions and ceremonies associated with high-school graduation in Denmark and finds certain analytical tools more useful than others when explaining how religious symbols, such as a cross or a Star of David, are incorporated. She concludes that the ceremonies are examples of rites of passage within a civil religion.

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  • Zitzewitz, Karin. 2008. The secular icon: Secularist practice and Indian visual culture. Visual Anthropology Review 24:12–28.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-7458.2008.00002.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines secular forms of visual culture as social practice in the context of criticism from Hindu nationalists in India. Attempts to contribute to an anthropology of secularism without reducing visual culture to mere political ideology. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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The Secular Observer

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, the social sciences defined themselves in part through their promotion of a rational, secular approach to the study of the religion. Religion was fascinating because it needed to be explained. The French scholar Emile Durkheim, for instance, saw the analysis of religion’s functions as an entirely separate question from the truth value of any religious expression. The social scientific approach produced many powerful analyses, but it also contained within it certain methodological quandaries. One of these has often been summarized as the insider–outsider problem, which raises the question of whether the secular observer can truly or fully understand what it means to participate in a given religion. This issue is explored in different ways by the various anthropological contributors to the journal Social Anthropology whose works are featured here. Blanes 2006 raises the ethical and representational dilemmas raised by anthropology’s attempt to participate in as well as observe what it studies. Kapferer 2001 examines the limitations of secular analytical stances on anthropological attempts to understand religion, while Stewart 2001 sees the avowed secularism of anthropology as a limiting analytical standpoint. De Pina-Cabral 2001 takes a broader, multifaceted view, locating forms of secularism in non-Western intellectual contexts as well as arguing for the necessity of a kind of secularism in global political terms for anthropology to be practiced as a comparative discipline. It is interesting to compare their positions with that of Susan Harding in the two well-known studies mentioned here. In one, Harding 1991 indicates how even fellow anthropologists expressed dubious assumptions over the author’s own religious beliefs and motivations when hearing that she wished to study what to them were “repugnant,” conservative Christians. In the other, Harding 1987 evokes ambiguities over the boundaries of belief and the deployment of language in describing an encounter between her and an eloquent pastor bent on converting her. Cannell 2005 encourages us to take a further, historical step back from the seemingly secular assumptions of anthropology, indicating that the intellectual roots of the discipline may not be so secular after all. Finally, Howell 2007, written by a Christian anthropologist, argues that while the author’s religious identity can be a useful tool in conducting ethnographic research on fellow Christians, the salient bridge between him and informants is not to do with belief per se.

  • Blanes, Ruy Llera. 2006. The atheist anthropologist: Believers and non-believers in anthropological fieldwork. Social Anthropology 14.2: 223–234.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0964028206002552Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the relation between anthropologists’ personal beliefs and their ethnographic practices. With reference to his own ethnographic research, Blanes discusses the negotiation of beliefs (or the lack of them) in processes containing tensions, distances, and proximities in relation to fieldwork interlocutors.

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  • Cannell, Fenella. 2005. The Christianity of anthropology. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11:335–356.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9655.2005.00239.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Cannell challenges anthropology’s self-envisaged secular independence by arguing that it still relies on certain Christian concepts. In the context of an ethnographic account of Mormonism, she demonstrates how anthropological topics such as modernity and genealogy remain grounded in their Christian underpinnings. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • De Pina-Cabral, João. 2001. Three points on secularism and anthropology. Social Anthropology 9.3: 329–333.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8676.2001.tb00158.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A short overview of secularism’s relation with anthropological theory. Argues that it is a mistake to see secularism or modernity as purely Western constructs. For instance, traces principles of humanist rationalism and religious skepticism to an older Confucian pedagogic tradition. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Harding, Susan F. 1987. Convicted by the Holy Spirit: The rhetoric of fundamental Baptist conversion. American Ethnologist 14.1: 167–181.

    DOI: 10.1525/ae.1987.14.1.02a00100Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Demonstrates how even a secular anthropologist can, however temporarily, gain a sense of what it feels to come close to belief, in response to the powerful religious rhetoric of a Baptist pastor. Available online by subscription.

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  • Harding, Susan F. 1991. Representing fundamentalism: The problem of the repugnant cultural other. Social Research 58:373–393.

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    Discusses the problematic relation between the secular assumptions of anthropologists and the ethnographic study of Christianity. Argues that Christianity, especially of the fundamentalist variety, can be seen as the “repugnant other” of anthropology. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Howell, Brian. 2007. The repugnant other speaks back: Christianity as ethnographic viewpoint. Anthropological Theory 7:371–391.

    DOI: 10.1177/1463499607083426Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Beginning with a discussion of Harding 1991, argues for the ethnographic utility of the Christian identity of the fieldworker studying Christianity. This utility is not said to revolve around the cognitively drawn notion of belief, but rather around the relevance of a broader notion of voluntary “commitment” when examining religious subjectivity. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Kapferer, Bruce. 2001. Anthropology: The paradox of the secular. Social Anthropology 9:341–344.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8676.2001.tb00161.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Highlights anthropology’s paradoxical reliance on secular logic. Argues that dependence on the methods of reason and rationality coming from post-Enlightenment discourse limits anthropology’s ability to understand nonsecular contexts. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Stewart, Charles. 2001. Secularism as an impediment to anthropological research. Social Anthropology 9.3: 325–328.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8676.2001.tb00157.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines debates concerning the secular and religious impact on anthropological method. Presents arguments for and against anthropologists incorporating their personal religious beliefs into their research. Concludes by describing the current state of anthropology as “sitting on the fence” in terms of striving to understand religious experiences while maintaining disciplinary restraint. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Ideology

Religion has often been seen as a form of ideology, in other words, a set of ideas that reinforce the assumptions and authority of a particular interest group. Can secularism also be viewed in this way? This argument can certainly be made with regard to some of the state regimes that discussed other sections (see, e.g., An-Na’im 2008; Navaro-Yashin 2002; Woodhead 2012, all cited under the State and Religion), but it is also evident in Beckford 2008, a study on how secularism can be used as a means of coercion. Engelke 2009 discusses the other side of the debate on secularism, providing an ethnographic insight into how a small religious group, the Bible Society, attempts to speak the language of secularism to make itself heard. This contemporary perspective complements the historical account of Budd 1977. Engelke 2009 also raises the question of how far the religious message is compromised by such action, and in a sense a similar question is raised in Gellner 1992, a philosophically informed examination of whether and how various secularists and religious believers might be able to find ways to debate on similar terms even if they cannot agree on which positions to take in relation to ideas of truth and ultimate reality. Chatterjee 1994 examines the politics of religious debate while also, like Gellner 1992, taking a stance in relation to the debates it describes. Chatterjee 1994 sees secularism as an ideological tool to deny a voice to religious minorities and opposes its use for this purpose. Connolly 2011 argues that secular stances themselves need to adapt in the light of certain aspects of religious revival. In contrast Dawkins 2006, an international best-seller, is an unapologetic defense of a secular worldview in opposition to religion, which is presented as an intellectual delusion. Finally, McLeod 2007 sees the 1960s as an important decade for the breakdown of religious authority and the flourishing of alternative or secular views, at least in the West.

  • Beckford, James A. 2008. Secularism and coercive freedoms. British Journal of Sociology. 59.1: 41–45.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2007.00179.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reflecting on Judith Butler’s concerns regarding the coercive and dogmatic ways in which the American and French governments have used secularism as a legitimizing force, Beckford analyzes the different ways in which these regimes have implemented secularism. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Budd, Susan. 1977. Varieties of unbelief: Atheists and agnostics in English society. 1850–1960. London: Heinemann.

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    Combines historical and social scientific analysis of organizations that have tried to combat Christianity, including the secular movement and the Rationalist Press Association.

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  • Chatterjee Partha. 1994. Secularism and toleration. Economic and Political Weekly 29:1768–1777.

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    A useful insight into the rise of the Hindu right in the Indian political sphere. The Hindu right has used secularism as a defence for promoting intolerance towards minority religious groups, particularly Muslims. Chatterjee examines ways in which liberals should use the concept of toleration to defend minority cultural rights. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Connolly, William E. 2011. Some theses on secularism. Cultural Anthropology 26.4: 648–656.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1360.2011.01117.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Connolly warns that modern secular doctrine needs to embrace a deeper, multidimensional pluralism. He suggests that to do otherwise risks “minoritizing” secular society in the wake of a new evangelical-neoliberal machine arising in the United States. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The God delusion. New York: Bantam.

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    Written by a biologist and Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, attempts to argue that belief in God is both a harmful delusion and contradicts the reliable evidence of the natural sciences.

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  • Engelke, Matthew. 2009. Strategic secularism: Bible advocacy in England. In Special issue: Contemporary religiosities: Emergent socialities and the post-nation-state. Edited by Bruce Kapferer, Annelin Eriksen, and Kari Telle. Social Analysis 53.1: 39–51.

    DOI: 10.3167/sa.2009.530103Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Introduces the concept of strategic secularism with reference to the Bible Society of England and Wales’s “campaign to culture” in Nottingham. Available online for purchase or by subscription. Also see Ethnographies.

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  • Gellner, Ernest. 1992. Postmodernism, reason, and religion. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203410431Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Pithy and opinionated, explores religious tradition, relativism and secular rationalism as three different approaches to the establishment of truth. Gellner also considers the significance of a “resurgent” Islam in the contemporary world.

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  • McLeod, Hugh. 2007. The religious crisis of the 1960s. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199298259.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the 1960s as a key period of religious change, involving the loss of influence of traditional Christian organizations and the efflorescence of both alternative systems of belief and secular ideologies, including Christian engagement with Marxism. Although focusing on England, the book also contains reflections on other parts of Europe, Australasia, and North America.

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Science

Science and religion are often thought to be uneasy bedfellows, with the true partner of science being secularism (see, e.g., Frazer 1890). Such binary divisions fail to account for the interdependence of these apparently separate discourses. Branford 2011 sets the tone with a provocative title that juxtaposes science with fantasy. What is sometimes forgotten is that science, religion, and secularism are all culturally specific and therefore are composed by and reflect a specific culture’s symbols and norms. Gray and Wolfe 1982 argue that teasing out the common cultural symbols of scientific and religious discourses helps to illuminate their joint links to American secularism. Tambiah 1990 disrupts the hegemony of a purely rational, objective, a-cultural set of scientific assumptions, as does Franklin 1995, thereby challenging one of the most enduring supports of the secularization framework, namely, that as people become more modern they become more rational, more scientific, and therefore less religious. See, however, Miller 1970 on how the secularizing impact of missionary contact was an unintended and counterintuitive consequence of missionary involvement. The missionaries’ naturalistic explanations of everyday phenomena—such as disease, weather, and agriculture—helped move the Toba Indians studied here to a more secular worldview. What lurks behind the construction of an apparent hard distinction between science and religion is often a power struggle over truth and definition. The impetus driving the “science wars,” according to Fujimura and Luce 1998, is not claims over objectivity or method or a defense of science as the model for rational secular thinking but rather a question familiar to anthropologists of religion: Whose authority is being upheld or threatened? Fujimura and Luce 1998 responds by reviewing an infamous hoax within social science and comparing it to an earlier debate in mathematics. Parodies are, like other forms of trickster practice, familiar to anthropologists studying how power and authority are distributed and defended. Those contestations recall other debates about secularization that linked the decline of religion to the loss of the moral fabric of society and the nature of social order. An important corrective to these debates comes from D’Andrade 1995, which questions the authority of anthropologists who insist on bringing moral normativity into their work.

  • Branford, Anna. 2011. Gould and the fairies. Australian Journal of Anthropology 22.1: 89–103.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1757-6547.2011.00105.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Challenges American biologist Stephen Jay Gould’s argument that science deals with empirical matters and is therefore entirely separate from religion, which deals with questions of ultimate value. Asserts that Gould’s concept requires a problematic definition of religion that reduces its meaning to social effect rather than individual experience. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • D’Andrade, Roy. 1995. Moral models in anthropology. Current Anthropology 36.3: 399–408.

    DOI: 10.1086/204377Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Constructing anthropology as a moral discipline concerned with such values as equality and freedom invites criticism about anthropology’s potentially ethnocentric, colonial nature. The author defends the scientific tradition of objectivity and calls for anthropologists to focus on empirical evidence rather than moral judgments. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Franklin, Sarah. 1995. Science as culture, cultures of science. Annual Review of Anthropology 24:163–184.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.an.24.100195.001115Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews the debates and controversies surrounding the suggestion that science can be subjected to the same critical social scientific inquiry as other forms of science normally seen as less objective—such as sociology or anthropology—and calls for a renewed anthropological effort to engage critically with the culture of science. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Frazer, James. 1890. The golden bough: A study in magic and religion. 2 vols. London: Macmillan.

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    Now outdated but the first anthropological bestseller, combining a survey of religious thought with an argument in favor of the ultimate triumph of science in human history. Ironically, the inspiration for much contemporary religious innovation, for instance among Wiccan and pagan groups.

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  • Fujimura, Joan H., and Henry R. Luce. 1998. Authorizing knowledge in science and anthropology. American Anthropologist 100.2: 347–360.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1998.100.2.347Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    By comparing a 19th century challenge to Euclidian geometry with a 20th century hoax journal paper, the authors argue that the science wars are struggles for epistemological authority. Scientific fundamentalists often achieve power and status that allow them to be arbiters of truth. By parodying social science, the satirists were constructing an Other as both foreign and wrong. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Gray, J. Patrick, and Linda D. Wolfe. 1982. Sociobiology and creationism: Two ethnosociologies of American culture. American Anthropologist, 84.3: 580–594.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1982.84.3.02a00040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Creationism and sociobiology depend on each other for discursive plausibility and acceptance in the popular imagination, yet the symbols on which they rely and their importance to American culture has been underexplored. The article explores how both creationism and sociobiology are in dialogue with a dominant American secular worldview. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Miller, Elmer S. 1970. The Christian missionary, agent of secularization. Anthropological Quarterly 43.1: 14–22.

    DOI: 10.2307/3316563Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    When missionaries tried to enlighten the Toba Indians in Argentina about how diseases or natural disasters actually occurred, they unwittingly provided naturalistic models of everyday life that had a major role in secularizing the people they had hoped to convert to the Christian religion. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja. 1990. Magic, science, religion and the scope of rationality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Offers a reconsideration of classical oppositions among science, magic, and religion. Examines functionalist, philosophical, and intellectualist/evolutionary approaches and criticizes approaches that do not explore qualities of magic and religion from wider sociological or participants’ perspectives.

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The Postsecular

After the relative hegemony of secularization theories from the 1960s, there is now much talk of whether we are entering a postsecular age. One obvious reason for this tendency relates to the resurgence of religion in public spheres in various parts of the world, including the West. More broadly, it may also reflect a greater openness to religious discourse from scholars who do not share some of the modernist, secularist assumptions of many Western social scientists. However, an obvious point is also—as perhaps implied in Habermas 2008 as well as in Martin and Catto 2012—that what we mean by the postsecular may depend on what we meant in the first place by talking about the secular. Furthermore, it seems unnecessary to characterize any epoch in terms of the absence or presence of religious, nonreligious, or antireligious forms, not least as these are sometimes dependent on each other for their existence (witness debates in North America between religious conservatives and secular liberals). In the small sample of pieces presented here, Warner 2010 provides a useful overview of current trends, while Cox 1984 is a reversal or at least a nuancing of earlier characterizations of secularization. Casanova 2011 also contextualizes and nuances its own work in this readable, reflective overview. The characterization of the postsecular in Habermas 2008 has a normative implication, as it argues that what is required now is not only a more sophisticated understanding of what might have been meant by secularization but also a greater degree of openness between religious and secular viewpoints. McLennan 2010 argues against the idea that secularism needs to be equated with atheism and calls for a sophisticated understanding of whether a principled separation between religion and the state is being urged by any given position, while urging the possibility of alliances between progressive believers and nonbelievers over such issues as fighting poverty. Day 2011 combines theoretical and disciplinary perspectives in exploring belief and belonging as examples of being differently religious rather than nonreligious.

  • Casanova, José. 2011. From modernization to secularization to globalization: An autobiographical self-reflection. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 2.1: 25–36.

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    While considering the trajectory of his career, Casanova discusses the main themes of his work on religion occupies the public spheres of contemporary societies and responds to commentators on his work who are included in the same issue.

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  • Cox, Harvey G. 1984. Religion in the secular city: Toward a postmodern theology. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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    Reflects on the popular revival of religion in many parts of the world, roughly twenty years after Cox, a theologian, published his influential book The Secular City (New York: Macmillan, 1966).

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  • Day, Abby. 2011. Believing in belonging: Belief and social identity in the modern world. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A qualitative and comparative study of several Euro-American contexts suggests that many forms of religious identifications are related to wider social identities and that rather than dismissing such identities as nominal, insignificant, or secular, scholars should recognize their social significance.

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  • Habermas, Jürgen. 2008. Notes on a post-secular society. New Perspectives Quarterly 25.4: 17–29.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5842.2008.01017.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that it is not clear that religious influence has waned globally, as for instance the visible conflicts that flare up in connection with religious issues have indicated. Furthermore it may be that Western rationalism, once supposed to serve as a model for the rest of the world, is actually the exception rather than the norm. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Martin, David, and Rebecca Catto. 2012. The religious and the secular. In Religion and change in modern Britain. Edited by Linda Woodhead and Rebecca Catto, 373–390. London: Routledge.

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    While focusing on Britain, argues more generally that once one abandons the idea that religion inevitably stands on a preordained downward slope, it becomes possible to imagine different ways of being modern, some religious and some not.

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  • McLennan, Gregor. 2010. The postsecular turn. Theory, Culture and Society 27.4: 3–20.

    DOI: 10.1177/0263276410372239Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores and critiques what McLennan sees as the increasingly postsecular orientation of social and cultural theory, arguing that such work is often argued from an intrasecular position. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Warner, Robert. 2010. Secularization and its discontents. London: Continuum.

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    Warner provides an overview of theories surrounding secularization, including classical secularization theory and the postsecularization paradigm. Warner goes on to suggest a new interpretation of resilient religions, based on trends of religious participation in the 21st century.

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LAST MODIFIED: 06/25/2013

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199766567-0078

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