Prof. Hans Joas
University of Chicago/Committee on Social Thought

Waves of Secularization:
An Alternative Explanation of "Religious Decline"

Over the last two decades, a virtual mountain of empirical evidence has convinced social scientists that the longstanding secularization thesis is untenable--i.e., the presumption that economic modernization and scientific progress leads automatically to religious decline. Abandonment of this conventional theoretical frame should make questions concerning the causes and consequences of secularization even more acute. Studies of the rise of a secular option remain important for understanding the preconditions for secularization, but they cannot explain the observable variations of this option for social organization. University of Chicago Professor Hans Joas offered a reevaluation that demonstrates that secularization is not a unitary, linear, continuous process at all. Rather, three

historical waves in European history provide a fuller account of the process that took place. Two waves (in the 1790’s and the 1960's) were very condensed and contingent processes; another wave occurred at different points in the second half of the 19th century. This reconceptualization of secularization is important because it opens the way for a reanalysis of the causes and consequences of the fundamental social changes that have recast the contemporary world.  A video of this public lecture is available here.

Hans Joas is an internationally recognized sociologist and social theorist, and the author of numerous works on social philosophy and theory, pragmatism, and the sociology of values, religion, war and violence.  In addition to his appointments as Professor of Sociology and as a Member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, Professor Joas is a Permanent Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies and he has held faculty appointments at the University of Toronto, the Free University of Berlin, University of Erlangan-Nuremberg, University of Uppsala, Indiana University, University of Wisconsin, New School for Social Research, Duke University, and the University of Vienna.


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