Secularization is a term used by sociologists to refer to a process by which the overarching and transcendent religious system of old is reduced in modern functionally differentiated societies to a subsystem alongside other subsystems, losing in this process its overarching claims over these other subsystems. This is the original meaning, but this process has consequences for the organizational and individual levels, which suggests that secularization needs to be analyzed on the societal (macro), the organizational (meso), and the individual (micro) levels.

The concept was introduced by Longueville in the negotiations that led to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 when he used the term seculariser to describe the change in statute of certain ecclesiastical territories that were being added to Brandenburg as compensation for its territorial losses. The emergence of the term is linked to the notion secularis that had already been in use for centuries, not only to distinguish the secular from the sacred, but also especially to indicate the former’s subordination to and dependence on the latter. However, the connotation associated with the term secularization has reversed this relationship: it expresses the advancing “emancipation” of the secular from the sacred. For the religious, however, it means rather the “confinement” of the religious to the religious sphere. The concept has a long history (which will not be analyzed here), and many authors have emphasized that it has always retained the ambiguous and consequently controversial meaning that it had from the start.

If the founding fathers rarely used the term, concepts and views related to theories of secularization were nonetheless canvassed, e.g., generalization and differentiation (Durkheim), and Weber (1920) used the term to typify the way in which, in the United States, membership in distinguished clubs and fraternal societies replaced membership of sects in guaranteeing moral rectitude and creditworthiness. Later generations of sociologists continued to employ the term, but attached different meanings to it (Shiner 1967). Not until the late 1960s and 1970s were several theories of secularization developed, most prominently by Berger (1967), Luckmann (1967), Wilson (1976), and Martin (1978). These theories subsequently led to discussions concerning their reliability and validity (e.g., Hammond 1985). In similar vein, others have suggested an alternative, i.e., rational choice theory (Young 1997), to explain the religious situation in the US, which they considered to be radically different from that of Europe, where secularization theory emerged. Finally, Tschannen and Dobbelaere have systematically analyzed the existing theories, since some discussions failed to scrutinize the ideas, levels of analysis, and arguments of those being criticized. Tschannen (1992) has suggested treating secularization theories as a paradigm and has described  different “exemplars,”  or shared examples, typical of the paradigm. Dobbelaere (2002 [1981]) has stressed the need to differentiate the different levels of analysis one from another, suggesting convergences and divergences between existing theories. To describe the core of secularization theory, the different exemplars will be discussed here according to the levels of analysis.

The Macro-Level: Societal Secularization

Modern societies are primarily differentiated along functional lines that overlay the prior forms of segmentary and social class differentiation, and have developed different subsystems (e.g., economy, polity, science, family, and education). These subsystems are similar in the sense that society has equal need of them all, but dissimilar since each performs its own particular function (production and distribution of goods and services; taking binding decisions; production of valid knowledge; procreation and mutual support; and teaching). Their functional autonomy depends of course on their communication with other functional systems and the environment. To guarantee these functions and to communicate with their environment, organizations (enterprises; political parties; research centers and academies; families; schools and universities) have been established (the meso-level). Each of these organizations functions on the basis of its own medium (money; power; truth; love; information and know how) and according to the values of its subsystem and its specific norms.

Regarding   religion,   these organizations affirm their autonomy and reject religiously prescribed rules, i.e., the autonomization of the subsystems – e.g., the emancipation of education from ecclesiastical authority; the separation of church and state; the rejection of church prescriptions about birth control, abortion, and euthanasia; the decline of religious content in literature and arts; and the development of science as an autonomous secular perspective. Consequently, the religious influence is increasingly confined to the religious subsystem itself. Thus, the sociological explanation of societal secularization starts with the process of functional differentiation and the autonomization of the so called secular subsystems; as a consequence, religion becomes a subsystem alongside other subsystems, losing in this process its over arching claims over those other subsystems. On the global level, one could of course point to countries  that are not  secularized because ”church and state” are not functionally differentiated – Iran, for example. But as Pace (1998) has pointed out, this is not typical of all Muslim countries; there are many where politics progressively asserts itself to form an independent sphere of action, which is the start of the secularization of these countries. In fact, societal secularization is only the particularization of the general process of functional differentiation in the religious subsystem and is a purely descriptive concept.

Berger and Luckmann stressed a consequence of the process of functional differentiation and the autonomization of the secular spheres, to wit, the privatization of religion. According to Luckmann (1967), the validity of religious norms became restricted to its proper sphere, i.e., that of private life. Berger (1967) stressed the functionality of this for the maintenance of the highly rationalized order of modern economic and political institutions, the so called public sphere. This dichotomy, private/ public, carries with it at least two shortcomings. First of all, it suggests that secularization was limited to the so called public sphere, which is incorrect: family life has also been secularized. This became very clear in the reactions of lay Catholics who objected to the rules enunciated in the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968). Married couples rejected the claim of the church to define the goals of the family and to dictate the acceptable means by which these goals might be achieved. In other words, they defended the functional differentiation of family and religion. Secondly, it is the adoption in sociological discourse of ideological concepts used by liberals and socialists in the nineteenth century to legitimize functional differentiation and the autonomization of so called secular institutions: ”religion is a private matter.”

It is clear that the private/public dichotomy is not a structural aspect of society. It is not a societal subsystem with institutionalized roles (professional versus public), as, for example, is the case in the economy (producers versus consumers), the educational system (teachers versus students), the polity (politicians versus voters), and the judicial system (magistrates and lawyers versus clients). It is, rather, a legitimizing conceptualization of the secular world, an ideological pair used in conflicts between opponents. For example, to defend their political, religious, or family options against possible sanctions and eventual dismissal by the management of Christian organizations, e.g., schools or hospitals, employees used this dichotomy if they failed to behave according to ecclesiastical rules in matters of family life, politics, or religion. They defended their private options, their private life, in what the managers of ecclesiastical organizations called the public sphere, since, according to the managers, these private options were publicly known. The outcome of such conflicts in court was that managers had to accept employees’ right to privacy. Of course, sociologists should study the use of this dichotomy in social discourse and conflicts, to analyze its strategic application by groups wanting to promote or to retard the secularization of the social system. The private/public dichotomy is not a sociological conceptualization. In sociological discourse, this ideological pair might better be replaced by Habermas’s (1982) conceptual dichotomy: system versus life world, used in a purely descriptive sense.

How are Functionally Differentiated Societies Integrated?

Pluralization, or the segmentary differentiation of the subsystem religion, was only possible, according to Parsons (1967), once the Christian ethic was institutionalized in the so called secular world: in other words, once the Christian ethic became generalized. Consequently, pluralization may not be considered an indicator of secularization – quite the contrary. However, the relationship is not unidirectional, since a growing pluralization may augment the necessity of generalization. Indeed, together with Bellah (1967), Parsons stressed the need for a civil religion which, to legitimize the system, overarches conventional religions. Martin (1978) suggests that when religion adapts to every status group through every variety of pullulating sectarianism, then there is a need to preserve the unity of the nation by a national myth which represents a common denominator of all faiths: one nation under God. Indeed, civil religion generalizes the different notions of God present in the various denominations: the God of the Jews, Catholics, Unitarians, Calvinists, and so forth. National myths sacralize their prophets, martyrs, and historical places: they have their ritualistic expressions and may also use biblical archetypes (Bellah 1967). Such myths and legitimations are not always religious: civil religion is one possibility; there are also secular myths, such as the French myth based on laicite, which legitimizes the French state, its schools and laws. One may also consider the need for secular laws overarching divergent, religiously inspired mores in religiously divided states.

How might the emergence of such a myth -religious or secular – be explained? Fenn (1978) has suggested that this is possible only when a society conceives of itself as a “nation,” as ”really real” – typical examples are the US, Japan, and France. On the other hand, the myth is rather seen as a cultural ”fiction” to the extent that a society views itself as an arena for conflicting and cooperative activities of various classes, groups, corporation, and organizations. What explains the emergence of a ”religious” rather than a ”secular” myth, or vice versa, and what accounts for the secularization of a religious myth? For example, the ”religious” civil religion of France, ”la fille ainee de l’Eglise,” was progressively secularized after the French Revolution and anchored in laicite. Another issue for inquiry is how and to what extent in certain countries a conventional religion may function as a civil religion in a religiously pluralistic society, and at what price, e.g., Anglicanism in England, Lutheranism in the Scandinavian countries, and Calvinism in the Netherlands. What degree of pluralism is congruent with a church fulfilling the role of civil religion?

Not all sociologists suggest that modern societies are integrated by common values, a point long since made by Durkheim. In a functionally differentiated society, the grip of the total societal system on the subsystems has changed, argues Luhmann (1977). A subsystem belongs to a societal system not because it is guided in its structural choices by requirements, values, and norms that apply to all subsystems. Integration is mediated by the fact that all sub systems are an inner societal environment for one another, they have to mutually accept one another’s functions – which does not preclude ”performances,” i.e., that a given subsystem intervenes in another subsystem if this subsystem is unable to solve some of its problems, as long as the intervening subsystem applies the values and norms of the subsystem in which it is intervening. Secondly, they have to prevent their own operations from producing insoluble problems in other subsystems, hence church leaders should not intervene in political elections by giving guidance to their flock about how to vote, since this would diminish the degree of functional differentiation. If such interventions are still acceptable in some countries, which was the case up to the 1980s in the Republic of Ireland and in Belgium until the 1950s, this would indicate a limitation of the differentiation of church and polity, and ipso facto a lesser degree of secularization. However, the system cannot prevent private individuals from failing to differentiate some functions and, for example, voting according to their religious beliefs or choosing a school for their children appropriate to their religious views. A structural equivalent is, therefore, according to Luhmann (1977), built into the system to prevent the dedifferentiation of the system: the ”Privatisierung des Entscheidens” (the individualization of decisions), which may cancel out some individual combinations by other combinations owing to the law of great numbers. This means that our societies function according to the principle of the individualization of decisions and actions, which implies that this principle is a structural component of modern societies. Publicity campaigns by industrial firms and political parties point to the individualization of decisions.

The Meso-Level: Organizational Secularization

The autonomization of the so called secular sub systems allowed the development of functional rationality within organizations. The economy lost its religious ethos (Weber). Goals and means were evaluated on a cost efficiency basis. This typical attitude implying observation, evaluation, calculation, and planning – which is based on a belief that the world is indeed calculable, controllable, and predictable – is not limited to the economic system. The political system was also rationalized, leaving little room for traditional and charismatic authority, as modern states developed their rational administration. Since these economic and political organizations needed ever greater numbers of people trained in science and rational techniques, the educational curriculum had to change. A scientific approach to the world and the teaching of technical knowledge increasingly replaced a religious literary formation. The development of scientifically based techniques also had its impact on the life world: domestic tasks became increasingly mechanized and computerized. Even the most intimate human behavior, sexuality, became governed by it. This is also the case with the so called  natural method  of birth control proposed by the Catholic Church. It is based on the basal temperature of the woman registered when waking, which has to be plotted on a chart. On the basis of the temperature curve, the fertile and infertile periods can be calculated. Thus, it was on the basis of observation, calculation, and evaluation that sexual intercourse could be planned to prevent pregnancy. Another example in the field of sexuality was the Masters and Johnson research to ”enhance” sexual plea sure. It was based on experimentation with couples and involved observation, calculation, and evaluation, by which means the researchers sought to produce guidelines to ensure and augment sexual pleasure: sexuality became a technique that could be improved by better performances according to the published ”technical rules.” The consequences of such developments were the disenchantment of the world and the societalization of the subsystems.

First, the disenchantment of the world. The growing propensity to consider the natural, material, social, and psychological world and the human body as calculable and human made, the result of controlled planning (e.g., in vitro fertilization and plastic surgery), engendered not only new roles but also new, basically rational and critical attitudes and a new cognition. Theses were replaced by hypotheses, the Bible by the encyclopedia, revelation by knowledge. According to Acquaviva (1979), this new cognition has been objectified in a new language that changed the image of reality, thus eliminating ”pre-logical,” including religious, concepts. The mass media, using this new language, have radicalized this development and made it a social phenomenon. This suggests a possible impact of these changes on the micro level, i.e., the consciousness of the individual. Having internalized this new language, which produced a certain vision of the world, people may to some extent have lost the vision of a sacred reality. For example, when artificial insemination is discussed on television, technical interventions produce life and the issue is debated in a secular, technical language, reducing life’s sacredness.

Second, it is in the systemic relations that societalization occurs, and these relationships became secondary: formal, segmented, utilitarian. By contrast, in the life world – family, friends, and social networks – primary relations are still the binding force, they are personal, total, sympathetic, trustful, and considerate. The trend toward societalization or Verge sellschaftung is very clear in the distribution sector: neighborhood stores are increasingly replaced by large department stores, where interactions between customers and employees are limited to short, informative questions and exchanges of money for goods. Economic production developed large scale economic organizations in which Taylorism, which is based on the specialization of tasks and the elimination of unnecessary  movement,  was extensively applied. This innovation led to the development of the assembly line. The organized world is based on impersonal role relationships, the coordination of skills, and essentially formal and contractual patterns of behavior, in which personal virtue, as distinguished from role obligations, is of small consequence (Wilson 1982). In such systems, control is no longer based on morals and religion but has become impersonal, a matter of routine techniques and unknown officials – legal, technical, mechanized, computerized, and electronic – for example, speed control by unmanned cameras and video control in department stores. Thus religion has lost one of its important latent functions: as long as control was interpersonal, it was founded on religiously based mores and substantive values. In Wilson s view, there is another argument to explain why secularization is a concomitant of societalization: since religion offers redemption, which is personal, total, an indivisible ultimate that is not susceptible to rational techniques or cost efficiency criteria, it has to be offered in a “community” (Wilson 1976), and the Verge sellschaftung has destroyed communal life.

Religion on the Meso-Level

How did the organizations within the religious subsystem react to the secularization of the sub systems? The scientific approach to the world and the teaching of technical knowledge that replaced a religious literary formation in the schools distressed, for example, the leaders of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, who stimulated the expansion of their own religiously oriented educational network. In the Christian world, especially in the Catholic world, the secularization of state schools, culture, and social life gave rise to the process of pillarization at the end of the nineteenth century. This was a deliberate attempt by the church to recover as much as possible of what was lost by secularization. It emerged in a context in which a separation was progressively being made – not only in principle but also structurally – between religion and other functional spheres, and to the extent that non Christians became a “fact,” i.e., acquired real power to implement their secular views. The procedure for such recovery was the establishment of a multiplicity of organizations in which Catholics, casuquo Protestants, could be insulated from the secular environment – e.g., schools and universities, hospitals, old people s homes, youth and adult movements, cultural associations, sports clubs, mass media, trade unions, health insurance funds, and political par ties. Pillarization was a defensive reaction and a typical process of segmented differentiation.

The emergence of new religious movements (NRMs) is related to the process of globalization and intercontinental mobility, and to the secularization that undermined the credibility of the ”Christian collective consciousness.” Plural ism had undermined its ”objectivity,” and the slowly perceived lack of impact of Christian religions on the societal level, expressed in the loss of its representatives status and power, allowed exotic religions to improve their position on the religious market. Some NRMs, such as the Unification Church, the Family, and ISCON, wanted to resacralize the world and its institutions by bringing God back into the different groups operating in different subsystems such as the family, the economy, and even the polity. Wallis (1984) has called these ”world rejecting new religions. However, the vast majority are of another type, ”world affirming. They offer their members esoteric means for attaining immediate and automatic assertiveness, heightened spirituality, recovery, success, and a clear mind, e.g., Mahikari provides an “omitama” or amulet; transcendental meditation (TM) a personal mantra for meditation; Scientology auditing with an e meter; human potential movements offer therapies, encounter groups, or alternative health and spiritual centers.

Luckmann (1990) suggested that in many NRMs, the level of transcendence was lowered and has become ”this worldly or mundane. The historical religions, to the contrary, are examples of ”great transcendences,” referring to something other than everyday reality, not with standing the fact that they were also involved in mundane or ”this worldly” affairs. However, the reference was always transcendental, e.g., the incantations for healing, for success in examinations or work, or for ”une amesœur” Most world affirming NRMs appear to reach only the level of ”intermediate transcendences.” They bridge time and space and promote intersubjective communication, but remain at the immanent level of everyday reality. Consequently, some, like TM, claim to be spiritual rather than religious movements. Whether we call NRMs spiritual or religious is not important, what matters is that we register a change: the ultimate has become ”this worldly.” If one were to employ a substantive definition of religion, referring to transcendent beliefs and practices, to the super natural, many NRMs would not be considered as religions. Even when we use a functional definition of religion, we may come to the same conclusion. Luhmann (1977) stated that the problem of simultaneity of indefiniteness and certainty is the typical function of religion. Indeed, most of these world affirming new religions are not concerned with the problems of simultaneity of transcendence and immanence since they focus only on the immanent, on everyday life, on the secular. They have adapted to the secular world.

These mundane orientations of religion are not new. Berger (1967) and Luckmann (1967) have suggested that the higher church attendance in America compared to Europe might be explained by the mundane orientation of religion in America. Luckmann called it internal secularization, a radical inner change in American church religion: the secular ideas of the American Dream pervade church religion today. In asserting that American churches were themselves   becoming   highly   secularized, these authors sought to reconcile empirical findings at the individual level, i.e., church attendance, which appeared to conflict with secularization theories, by pointing out changes at the organizational level, i.e., within the churches. The point of interest for our argument is that the idea of organizational secularization is not new: the concept of internal secularization was its predecessor.

Secularization and Laicization

The processes of societal and organizational secularization may be the consequence of a latent and/or a manifest process. In Belgium, pillarization was a reaction against a manifest policy, starting in the second part of the nineteenth century, by the radical liberal faction and, later, supported by the socialists to subvert the Catholic Church s control in matters of education, culture, and charity. This manifest process of secularization is called laicization. France is a very good example of the laicization of schools, and the 2005 law prohibiting ostentatious religious signs in state schools underlines this. Marx, Lenin, and the Marxist parties also pro pounded a deliberate policy of laicization of the state. According to Marx, the state that presupposes religion is not yet a real and genuine state, and even in his first articles in the Rheinische Zeitung he upheld the autonomy of politics. This position was later affirmed by Lenin and implemented in the USSR with the January 1918 decree on the separation of church from state and school from church. Other examples of the ”logic of laicization,” most typical of Catholic European societies, may be found in Champion (1993). In Belgium and the Netherlands, recent governments have laicized laws on life and death by legalizing abortion and depenalizing euthanasia, and they have extended marriage to homosexual couples, changing, according to a religious view, a so called God given law. These examples also clearly indicate that secularization is not a mechanical, evolutionary process but a consequence of divergent definitions, the outcome of which is dependent upon the balance of power. Such manifest conflicts do not occur only on the national level but may be situated on the city level and linked to so called secular issues such as homelessness and black neighbor hood development, as pointed out in a study by Demerath and Williams (1992).

However, secularization may also be the result of a latent process. The secularization of the medical subsystem was a consequence of the development of medical science and professionalization: medical rationality reduced the place of religion. Even in Catholic hospitals, the organizational structure is based on medical specialisms and the development of administrative rationality, which marginalized religion and, in the second half of the twentieth century, confined it to a small optional service – the chaplaincy. In Catholic schools, the professionalization of teachers stressed the scientific approach of the so called profane branches and reduced religion to a specific class, taught by a special teacher: it became one class among others. These are examples of a latent process of secularization: the secularization of Catholic hospitals and schools was the manifest purpose neither of medical doctors nor of teachers.

It is not only professionals who may secularize the world, as is evident from a study under taken by Voye (1998) on Christmas decorations in a Walloon village in Belgium. Isambert (1982) underscored the slide from the scriptural and liturgical basis of the nativity, which is oriented toward the incarnation and redemption, toward the Christ child. Indeed, the Christ child is placed at the center of familial Christmas celebrations and also in the decorations displayed by the city authorities. In this Walloon village, however, the decorations evoke a further sliding away: signboards several meters square, erected on lawns in front of houses and illuminated at night, represented Walt Disney cartoon characters. Here, Christmas is not only child oriented but, as Voye rightfully underscores, with the Disney characters we are no longer in the realms of history but in a fairytale, peopled with fictive beings. These decorations convey implicitly the idea that Christmas is a marvelous fairytale, far removed from the original incarnation-redemption idea that the religious message of Christmas carries. By putting up these decorations, people latently secularize the Christian message.

The Micro-Level: Individual Secularization

Luhmann’s contention that the social structure is secularized but not the individual is controversial. Most sociologists will not challenge the first part, although some will question the second part. Berger, Davie, Martin, and Stark point out the religious fever in the United States, which is contested by other sociologists (e.g., Demerath 2001), and in the world, and they reject the universal pattern of individual secularization, while accepting that Europe is to a large extent secularized on the micro level. For this reason they call Europe the exception, although Davie (2002) relativizes this by high lighting the persistence of religious beliefs and ”religious sensitivity,” and by referring to what she calls ”vicarious religion”: people drawing on religious capital at crucial times in their individual or collective lives, e.g., for the celebration of rites of passage. Her interpretation is based on data from the European Values Study referring, among other indicators, to belief in God. However, it may be remarked that the content of belief in God has greatly changed: the number of people believing in a ”personal God” is shrinking and is replaced by a growing number of agnostics and persons believing in ”a spirit or life force.” Although sociological research in Belgium shows that a certain percentage of the unchurched still pray and define themselves as religious, a more detailed analysis reveals that, among those who have been at least two generations unchurched, fewer people define themselves as religious and fewer maintain a private practice than among the first generation unchurched. Does this not suggest that it is difficult to remain religious the longer one is severed from a religious congregation?

Recent qualitative research in Belgium has also revealed that for those unchurched persons and marginal church members who still ask for a religious rite of passage, the meaning of these rites has changed: it expresses for them more of a cultural and family tradition than a religious one. Hiernaux and Voye led a study of Catholics in French speaking Belgium who intended to have a religious burial. The study revealed important changes. When Latin was used in ritual and hymns, the priest had the central role and used standardized formulae, which he knew and understood, creating a distance between daily life and the afterlife. Formerly, the ritual was centered on the life to come and the mystery surrounding it, whereas now the ritual centered upon the deceased: his life, loves, friendships, and accomplishments: the texts read and the songs and music played were chosen by the family with reference to the deceased. If religious texts and hymns were used, they were chosen to express the qualities of the deceased and not because they refer to God. Quite often God was not brought in except in the rare sacramental words pronounced by the priest (Voye 1998). Studying the motivations of the unchurched and marginal church members who had their children baptized, it was found that both the cultural tradition of the country and familial tradition were important elements in the motivation. By being baptized, the children would later be socialized in the basic values of their culture during the catechism preceding their first and solemn communion, and this was considered by parents to be important in giving their children a ”good start.” The evaluation of religious changes at the individual level as secularization is in fact based on a substantive definition of religion in reference to institutionalized religion. Researchers who question individual secularization use terms like religious sensitivity, spirituality, religious metamorphoses, or the changing contours of religious matters (for a discussion see Beckford 2003). On the micro level, secularization is here defined as declining religiosity and a change in motivation in the use of religious rites: from a traditional religious reference to a secularly motivated use.

How is such a decline in religiosity to be explained? There are no comparative studies between countries that allow us to link the mean degree of individual secularization to the level of societal secularization in these countries (Dobbelaere 2002 [1981]). Several other factors also play a role, including individualization as a structural component of modern societies, and migration and the mass media, which bring individuals in contact with other religions and undermine the taken for granted certainties of their own religion. Studies in the western world have highlighted religious bricolage resulting from individuals shopping on the religious market, as on other markets, and building their own meaning system (Dobbelaere et al. 2003). Pace (1998) has pointed out that in Muslim countries the conflict between country and city – the latter having created new social classes with different attitudes to religious traditions and a greater willingness to accept new choices and values -and emigration, which has affected the religion not only of emigrants but also of those who stay behind, as they compare themselves with their emigrated children, relatives, or friends, have had an impact on individual secularization.

However, on the micro level, secularization could also be defined as ”secularization of mind” or compartmentalization: to what extent do people think in terms of separation of the religious subsystem and the juridical, educational, economic, family, scientific, medical, and political subsystems? In other words, do they think along the same lines as the secularized society is structured, i.e., that religion should not inform the so called profane subsystems, that these are autonomous and that any interference of religion in these subsystems should be eradicated and disallowed? In a study in Western and Central European countries, researchers were able to measure the degree of compartmentalization and to establish that the unchurched and members of the Protestant and Catholic churches with the lowest degree of church commitment think most in terms of compartmentalization (Billiet et al. 2003).

If researchers want to study the effect of societal secularization on individual secularization and on compartmentalization, then there should be international surveys that allow the measurement of these concepts in countries with different   levels   of   societal secularization. Researchers should first establish the degree of societal secularization using a comprehensive secularization index. This will allow them to distinguish between countries according to their degree of societal secularization. Then they should be able to build an individual secularization index and a comprehensive compartmentalization index. Studying the association between societal secularization and compartmentalization, and between compartmentalization and individual secularization – defined as level of church commitment – should allow researchers to study the impact of societal changes on individual thinking and behavior.

In the United States an alternative theory to secularization, which was not considered applicable in the US context, was developed: rational choice theory (RCT). Are both theories mutually exclusive? RCT holds that a religious pluralistic situation may promote church commitment. This theory makes three important points (Young 1997). It postulates a latent religiosity on the demand side, which should become manifest by active competition between religious firms on the supply side. However, this is only possible in a pluralistic religious situation where religious firms compete for customers, and to the extent that the supply side is not limited by state regulations, suppressing or subsidizing religions. Stated thus, RCT only works in states that are secularized on the societal level. State and religion should be deregulated to allow competition between religious firms; in the opposite case religious firms are “lazy,” since there is no need for competition. Consequently, there is no opposition between secularization theory and RCT: both theories are complementary. Sociologists of religion should combine both theoretical approaches and integrate them (Dobbelaere 2002 [1981]).


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