Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Secularization: Asking the Right Questions

Perhaps my favorite quote of all time, which curiously has not appeared here before, is from Hans van Campenhausen: "It is the wrong question to ask, and therefore, as one might expect, has no right answer." This is the approach that Stephen Prothero took to questions raised by secularization theory. Secularization theory, which very broadly stated, is the belief that society is marching progressively on toward irreligion, raised questions about the anomaly of a developed Western society like America which was curiously still so religious. This, shockingly, turned out to be the wrong question, given that--in Prothero's words--"Secularization theory has run aground, as grand theories often do, on the shoals of historical facts."

Instead, Prothero offers this thought-provoking question which may turn out to have been the right one all along:

Today what needs explaining is not the persistence of religion in modern societies but the emergence of unbelief in Europe and among American leaders in media, law, and higher education.

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