Secularization is the mechanism through which religious beliefs and institutions lose prominence in contemporary cultures in the face of scientific knowledge and other modernized types of knowledge.
Secularization Sociology Definition

Definition of Secularization

Secularization is the mechanism through which religious beliefs and institutions lose prominence in contemporary cultures in the face of scientific knowledge and other modernized types of knowledge. It is the phenomenon through which religious beliefs, rituals, and structures diminish their societal relevance. Sociologists use the term “secularization” to describe the process by which the ancient, all-encompassing, transcendent religious order is diminished in contemporary, structurally diversified communities to just as a subsystem along with other functional units, losing its all-encompassing assertions over all other functional units.

Sociological Explanation

The term “secularizer” was first used in 1648 by the Frenchman Longueville to characterize the change in the law of certain ecclesiastical lands that were being transferred to Brandenburg during talks that culminated in the Peace of Westphalia.

Secularization is the process through which religious organizations, practices, and beliefs lose societal relevance, particularly in modern industrial cultures. The decreasing trend of religion is measured by factors like religious attendance, adherence to orthodox beliefs, financial support for organized religion, membership in those organizations, and respect for those organizations, as well as the significance that religious events like festivals have in daily life. 

According to Weber, conceptions rooted in mysticism, superstitions, and the otherworldly would be replaced by knowledge developed through science and logical reasoning. The decline in religious observance and practice are often cited as indicators of secularization. This argument is, however, disputed. It is noted that religious group enrollment is rising rather than declining in industrial civilizations like the US and that the clergy continues to have a strong political, socioeconomic, and religious impact in many cultures.

The traditional theories of Max Weber and Emile Durkheim laid the foundation of the secularization thesis. According to Weber, the scope of religion would be significantly reduced by the greater rationality of society, including bureaucratization, scientific advancement, and logic in many areas of daily life. The disenchantment of spirituality in the event of adverse rationalized value realms would emerge from the rising specialized knowledge of institutional spheres, including family, nation-state, society, law, and politics.

Despite being a staunch supporter of the sacred’s importance to society, Durkheim prophesied that the formation of distinct scientific and professional membership communities would gradually supersede the integrating roles played by ecclesiastical religion in traditional cultures.

The Weberian view of the secularization-modernization thesis, in particular, had a significant impact on the paradigm of social progress put forward by modernization scholars in the 1960s. These thinkers contended that social changes brought on by urbanization, industrialization, education, and mass media development would result in religion losing the power it purportedly has in traditional civilizations.

According to the secularization thesis, it is a natural consequence of developing an advanced economy and enriching civilization. The idea of an omnipotent deity is said to be less relevant or plausible because of modern science, urbanization of society, the erosion of family life, and technological advancement. In this way, it serves as a gauge for what Max Weber meant when he said that society had become more nationalized.

The secularization theory is criticized for exaggerating the amount of organized religion’s influence in pre-modern civilizations, tacitly linking this theory to the demise of Christianity, and undervaluing the role of new religious groups in supposedly secular nations.

According to Philip S. Gorski, reliable empirical assertions for secularization or religious vitality need to be based on longer temporal and wider geographical views to judge how religion has changed through time.

Talcott Parson asserted that religious organizations still served a crucial purpose and were far from losing their power while becoming increasingly specialized.

Today’s secularization needs to be understood in the context of a balance between strong empirical evidence supporting the continued sociological importance of religion in society and people’s daily lives and the collaboration of these patterns with equally strong empirical evidence indicating selective acceptance of religion’s metaphysical, spiritual, and institutional power.

The degree of secularization varies greatly throughout Western cultures. For instance, it is noteworthy that religious membership in the US has remained strong. In contemporary society, however, new cults and sects are still being established and embraced.

Sociologists apply the societal-macro, organizational-meso, and personal-micro levels in the studies of the secular nature of society.


Examples of secularization include a drop in organized church attendance or a lower place for religion in public schools.

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