Religion in Secular Society: A Sociological Comment

By Bryan R. Wilson | Go to book overview

III
THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF SECULARIZATION

WE have so far examined the process of secularization in the light of factors largely internal to religion itself. It would be impossible to determine the primacy of causes, but secularization is not merely a consequence of internal dialectic occurring over time within religious movements. Men's religious orientations to the world occur within a wider social context with which they interact in highly complex ways. It would be impossible to ignore the growth of new channels for man's emotional expression, new prospects for the realization of his wishes, and new agencies which function for him in ways which, in the past, have been more or less a monopoly of religious agencies. Thus, to choose almost at random, if we look at political movements, we see that the development of industrial society and the emergence of democratic patterns of political behaviour have had diverse consequences of importance for religion. The very conception that social arrangements, distributions of power, wealth, prestige, life chances and the general pattern of life circumstances, can be affected by instrumental action, and primarily by mass decision-making (or decision-making in the name of the masses) has in itself gradually altered man's recourse to demands for supernatural intervention in his affairs. The widespread religious teaching that man must show contentment with his lot, and fulfil his obligations, or, alternatively the religious hope that God will enter the human scene (again)

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