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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Individual Spirituality and Establishment

Jeremy Patrick is a Lecturer for the University of Southern Queensland School of Law and Justice

In a previous piece on the ICLRS blog, I argued that the legal understanding of freedom of religion should be extended and interpreted to encompass individual spirituality. The beliefs of the “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) may be very different than the traditional understanding of religion as a hierarchical, institutional, fixed set of beliefs about God that impose duties on believers, but I suggested that, nonetheless, the spiritual views of “SBNRs” should be given respect and protection. But from a constitutional perspective, freedom of religion is just one side of the coin. What about the other side: establishment of religion? In what follows, I intend to sketch the contours of how individual spirituality may interact with constitutional guarantees of non-establishment.


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