Secularization as declining religious authority
Secularization is most productively understood not as declining religion, but as the declining scope of religious authority. A focus on religious authority (1) is more consistent with recent developments in social theory than is a preoccupation with religion; (2) draws on and develops what is best in the secularization literature; and (3) reclaims a neglected Weberian insight concerning the sociological analysis of religion. Several descriptive and theoretical “pay-offs” of this conceptual innervation are discussed: New hypotheses concerning the relationship between religion and social movements; the enhanced capacity to conceptually apprehend and empirically investigate secularization among societies, organizations, and individuals; and clearer theoretical connections between secularization and other sociological literatures. Ironically, these connections may indeed spell the end of secularization theory as a distinct body of theory, but in a different way than previouslyappreciated. © 1994 The University of North Carolina Press.
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