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Sacred and Secular. Religion and Politics Worldwide.

Norris, P. and R. Inglehart (2004). Sacred and Secular. Religion and Politics Worldwide. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Seminal thinkers of the nineteenth century — Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud — all predicted that religion would gradually fade in importance and cease to be significant with the emergence of industrial society. The belief that religion was dying became the conventional wisdom in the social sciences during most of the twentieth century.

During the last decade, however, the secularization thesis has experienced the most sustained challenge in its long history. Critics point to multiple indicators of religious health and vitality today, from the continued popularity of churchgoing in the United States, to the emergence of New Age spirituality in Western Europe, the surge of fundamentalist movements and Islamic parties in the Muslim world, the evangelical revival sweeping through Latin America, and the widespread ethno-religious conflicts in international affairs.

The traditional secularization thesis needs updating.  Religion has not disappeared and is unlikely to do so. Nevertheless, the concept of secularization captures an important part of what is going on.  This book develops a theory of secularization and existential security, building on key elements of traditional sociological theories and revising others.  This book demonstrates that: (1) The publics of virtually all advanced industrial societies have been moving toward more secular orientations during the past fifty years; but (2) The world as a whole now has more people with traditional religious views than ever before– and they constitute a growing proportion of the world’s population.  Though these two propositions may seem contradictory, they are not.  The fact that the first proposition is true, helps account for the second—because secularization has a surprisingly powerful negative impact on human fertility rates.

The critiques of secularization draw their evidence mainly from the United States (which happens to be a strikingly exceptional case) rather than comparing systematic evidence across a broad range of both rich and poor societies.  This book draws on a massive base of new evidence generated by the four waves of the World Values Survey executed from 1981 to 2001 in eighty societies, covering all of the world’s major faiths. Examining religiosity from a broader perspective and in a wider range of countries than ever before, this book demonstrates that religiosity persists most strongly among vulnerable populations, especially those in poorer nations and in failed states, facing personal survival-threatening risks.  Exposure to physical, societal and personal risks drives religiosity. Conversely, a systematic erosion of religious practices, values and beliefs has occurred among the more prosperous strata in rich nations.


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