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Nikki R. Keddie
Secularism and the State: Towards Clarity and Global Comparison
Debates about the process of secularization have, in recent years, centred on the work of a group of sociologists and historians, mostly British, who have put forth and debated what is known as ‘the secularization thesis’.  This correlates modernization with secularization, and generally measures secularization primarily through declining church membership and declared religious beliefs. In most of this discussion, secularization is attributed almost exclusively to socio-economic change, without significant reference to the state, to ideas, or to political movements. While there have been modifications of the thesis over time, one recent definition shows that it still retains its essential characteristics: the secularization thesis is a ‘research programme with, at its core, an explanatory model’ which ‘asserts that the social significance of religion diminishes in response to the operation of three salient features of modernization, namely 1) social differentiation, 2) societalization, and 3) rationalization’.  These factors are defined later, but clearly all three involve societal change rather than changes in ideas, political movements or the state. Advocates of the secularization thesis have also tended to see it as a progressive one-way process; societies and their constituent members become more secular as they become more modernized. This article, in contrast, contends that such an overwhelmingly ‘societal’ and non-political view cannot adequately explain secularization. Furthermore, it cannot explain the rise in recent decades and in many parts of the world of anti-secular movements and ideas.
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