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Religion and Secularization

In primitive and traditional societies religion was all pervasive in the sense that religion ordained everything from birth to cremation or burial. Religion determined the world view of the believers in primitive societies. These characteristics are applicable to religious people in modern societies also but a subtle difference has crept in. With regard to theology people are gradually moving away from a mythical interpretation to a more rational one. The rationalization of religious thought is part of a general process of rationalization of thinking in general. Secularization of culture involved not simply an increase in rationality in the thinking of man but also a diminution of the sacred which is characterized as desacralization of the attitudes towards persons and things. Desacralization actually means the withdrawal of the kind of emotional involvement which is to be found in the religious response in the response to the sacred. Thus, the secularization of religion means both desacralization and rationalization, i.e. religious world view is no longer the basic frame of reference of thought. Max Weber’s interpretation of industrial society provides one of the earliest statements on desacralization. According to him the industrial society is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and above all by the disenchantment of the world. The modern idea of secularization is attributed to Bryan Wilson. In his book Religion in a secular society he observes: Religious thinking is perhaps the area which evidences most conspicuous change. Men act less and less in response to religious motivation; they assess the world in empirical and rational terms. Wilson identifies four factors mainly responsible for the rational thinking and rational world view. 

Worldly asceticism – Protestantism created an ethic which was pragmatic, rational, controlled and anti-emotional, a worldly asceticism.

Rational principles – In an industrial society, men are involved in organizations which are based on rational principles. Firms, public service and educational institutions impose rational behavior.

Reason rather than faith- Modern knowledge is based on reason rather than faith. Science according to Wilson not only explains many facets of life and the material environment in a way more satisfactorily than religion but it also provides confirmation of its explanation in practical results.

Ideologies – Ideologies such as communism developed which offer practical solution to the problems. Religious solutions such as promise of justice and reward in the afterlife do not produce practical and observable results. 

There are bound to be reactions against rationalism leading to periods of religious revival.