Revisiting the Secularization Thesis
The following set of papers emerged in a history seminar on “Religion, Secularism, and Modernity” at Wesleyan’s College of Social Studies, and are a collective re-engagement with old questions. As the syllabus states: “In recent decades, religion has regained prominence both as a force in world politics, and as a much-debated category of analysis in the social sciences. This new development would have profoundly surprised generations of thinkers—from Marx to the proponents of the secularization thesis—who prophesied that religion would “die out” as a force of public, and perhaps even private, life. The return of religion has brought into question many of the foundational assumptions of modernity—namely, that modernization and secularization are twin processes that rationalize and disenchant the world and create the modern (secular) subject.” Each week we focused on a question or concept: Is there room for God in History? What does it mean to study religion “scientifically”? How useful are concepts like “political religion” and “civil religion”? What made the “secularization thesis” so powerful for social scientists, how did the thesis come to be questioned, and what do we do “after secularization”? This issue of the Undergraduate Journal of Social Studies presents several papers that propose answers to the above questions and produce new directions for thinking about religion, secularism, and the relationship of both to the concept of modernity.
Assistant Professor of History
College of Social Studies
The Religion of Communism and the Spiritual Stalemate
Brendan Z. O'Donnell