The Disconnect Between Religion and Culture


Olivier Roy in Eurozine:

We Europeans live in secular societies and not in pre- or post-secular societies. Secularization has prevailed globally, even in Muslim countries. Of course, that does not mean that people have become irreligious. A society can consist of a majority of believers and still be secular, as in the United States.

In order to explain this assertion, which might sound paradoxical when the world is being shaken by the rise of the “Islamic State”, it will be necessary to discuss the changing nature of the link between culture and religion, and particularly the “de-culturation” of religion.

There are many different ways to define secularization. As a social phenomenon, it is not an abstract process; it is always the secularization of a given religion, whose nature changes as secularization unfolds. Common definitions of secularization include three elements.

The first is the separation of state and religion, of politics and confession, without necessarily entailing a secularization of society. The United States is a good example: although there is a strong separation of church and state, levels of religiosity among the population are still high. The First Amendment of the American Constitution stresses both secularity and religious freedom. The second element in definitions of secularization is the decline in the influence of religious institutions in societies. Activities such as healthcare and education are now managed by the state or the private sector. In Europe, the churches have clearly withdrawn from the “management of society”.

The third element in definitions of secularization is what Max Weber called Entzauberung – the disenchantment of the world. This does not mean that people become atheists, but that they care less about religion. Religion no longer plays a major role in our everyday lives, even if we still consider ourselves part of a religious community. In this sense, secularization corresponds to the marginalization of religion in society, rather than its exclusion.

More here.