Individualization of Religious Beliefs, Secularization and Religion-State Relations

A growing trend of religious life in contemporary Western societies is the number of religiously unaffiliated people (also known as “nones”). Some of them believe in nothing, but many others shape religious beliefs with their own, individual understanding of God, the world, and their place in it. They may have specific convictions of what their religion requires or can believe in dogmas of different religions simultaneously, practice spiritual meditation, or sacralize cultural phenomena or ideological concepts.

From a philosophical perspective, the individualization of religion challenges a wide-spread understanding of organized religion (where believers worship God in communion) as the main form of spiritual life. From a law and religion perspective, the questions are how the state should deal with such individualized religious beliefs. Should they be protected under the premises of religious freedom? How will individualization affect religion-state relations?


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Secularization Is (Also) Individualization

Paolo Costa is a researcher at the Center for Religious Sciences of Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Trento, Italy

What is “secularization”?

The term sounds familiar enough. But can we assume that everybody knows what it is about?

Its field of application is, at least on the face of it, within everyone’s reach. Who does not have an opinion on the fate of religion today? In a range of positions going from the lamentations of those who day-in-day-out complain that “nothing is sacred anymore” to the dismay of those who do not understand how obscurantism and superstition have not yet disappeared from the face of the earth, the opinion niches where people can comfortably curl up are numerous and well known.

At the same time, however, it seems hazardous to presume that the word has been incorporated into everyday language. It is an easily verifiable fact that, if requested, many struggle to explain what exactly “secularization” is, displaying an indecision that does not seem to affect semantically contiguous terms such as secularism or de-Christianization.


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In Search for a Language for Individualized Religiosity

Stanislav Panin holds a PhD in Philosophy from Moscow State University and is a Doctoral Student in the Department of Religion at Rice University

One persistent theoretical debate in the study of religion revolves around this question: whether religion is primarily a collective or individual phenomenon. Among classical figures within the study of religion, some, like Émile Durkheim, insisted on the inherently collective nature of religion, while others, like William James, emphasized its personal, individual aspect. The distinction roughly reflects the difference between the disciplines and methodologies that these scholars relied on; at the same time, it also demonstrates the complexity of the phenomenon in question and the fact that religion has appeared in many shapes throughout history.


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