Given its association with the New School for Social Research, Public Seminar seems to me a fitting space for some critical reflections triggered by former NSSR faculty member Peter Berger’s last major work, The Many Altars of Modernity.[1] The book is significant in a dual sense. It recaptures the style and restates some of the key concepts and themes of the Schützian phenomenological analysis one finds in Berger’s early classic works. Of special relevance is Berger’s analysis of the emergence of differentiated but co-existing religious and secular spheres, both in social space and in the minds of individuals. In addition, it offers the most convincing version of his many cumulative revisions of his original theory of secularization.

The central thesis is that the contemporary pluralist age is characterized by a dual pluralism, that is, by “the co-existence of different religions and the co-existence of religious and secular discourses” (Berger, 2014: ix). While the insight is important, Berger’s new paradigm is still too much embedded within a theory of Western modernization that views modernity itself as the carrier or catalysts of both types of pluralism: multi-religious pluralism and secular-religious pluralism.

While European modernity is certainly the carrier or catalyst of the second type of modern pluralism, the secular-religious one, the exceptional process of European secularization amply demonstrates that modernity per se does not contribute to religious pluralism. One needs an additional factor or analytical framework to understand the emergence of a global system of religious pluralism. And this, in my view, has to be a theory of globalization, a globalization that both precedes Western secular modernity and continues in an accelerated and transformed manner after Western secular modernity.

My contention is dual. First, that European modernity leads to secularization but not necessarily to religious pluralization. And second, that globalization leads to religious pluralization but not necessarily to secularization. It is the intertwinement of both processes that produces the combination of the two types of pluralism. Both processes became related through the intertwinement of two European roads, the internal one of homogeneous confessionalization leading to religious decline, and the external one of global colonial encounters with the religious “other” leading to religious pluralism.

We could take 1492 as the symbolic date marking the beginning of both processes. Unlike the symbolic date of 1500 proposed by Charles Taylor as a dividing line between the medieval world of religious enchantment and the modern world of secular disenchantment and pluralization of belief options – a date which is still framed within the traditional paradigm of modernization – the date of 1492 serves to complicate both our narratives of Western modernity and our narratives of globalization.

On the one hand, 1492 marks the decision of that most “Catholic King” to expel Jews and Muslims from Spain in order to create a religiously homogeneous realm. In this respect, it also marks the beginning of a Europe-wide process of early modern confessionalization of state, nation, and people based on the principle cuius regio eius religio; which served to organize the Westphalian system of states throughout continental Europe.

On the other hand, 1492 serves also as symbolic marker of the beginning of the European global colonial expansion initiated by the Iberian monarchies. The Iberian colonial expansion, the Portuguese one into the East Indies and the Spanish one into the West Indies, made possible the connection of the Old World of Afro-Eurasia and the “discovered” New World of the Americas, linking the East and West “Indies” and thus forming for the first time one truly global world capable of novel transatlantic and transpacific exchanges.

In trying to ascertain the relation between modernization, secularization, and religious pluralization, it is important to stress the fact that, at least within Europe, the principle cuius regio eius religio remained practically unaltered through the transition from monarchic to national people’s sovereignty, whether through the fall of the ancient regimes or the process of mass democratization in the early 20 th century. Continental European societies remained until very recently religiously homogeneous societies, the only significant change within them being the transition from widespread belief to widespread unbelief. That is, Continental Europe has been characterized both by unchurching and an increase in secular-religious pluralism, but not in religious pluralism per se.

At the level of individual consciousness, moreover, Europeans usually experience this process of de-confessionalization and the accompanying individuation as a process of temporal liberation from ascribed confessional identities. Phenomenologically, Europeans have tended to experience secularization not so much as a process of spatial differentiation within their consciousness of coexisting religious and secular modes (a process which, according to Berger, would correlate with the differentiation of religious and secular spheres in society). Rather, Europeans have tended to experience secularization as a historical process of religious decline, that is, of temporal and spatial supersession of the religious by the secular.

Outside of Europe, by contrast, the dynamics of confessionalization and de-confessionalization – as well as the secularist stadial consciousness that accompanies them – are usually absent. One more frequently finds religious pluralization and religious-secular pluralism combined not with extreme, but with what we might call a “milder” secularization. Understanding the dynamics of religious pluralization, in my view, requires understanding the processes of globalization and the “religious” encounters linked to the external road of European colonial expansion much more than it does the processes of modernization.

Looking at the paradigmatic system of American religious pluralism, it is worth remembering that the American colonies became a refuge for all those religious minorities forced to migrate by the dynamics of ethno-religious cleansing connected with processes of European confessionalization. Besides being the home of Native American cultures, the Americas also became the home for African religions brought by the transatlantic slave trade. American developments, in this respect, stand at the crossroads of both dynamics, of external processes of globalization and of internal processes of modernization, insofar as the American Revolution is intrinsically connected with the European Enlightenment. In this respect the United States remains the first and the paradigmatic case of the simultaneous development of the two types of modern pluralism: religious-secular and multi-religious.

Looking at this from a global comparative perspective, relevant is the fact that the religious-secular differentiation, which emerged first in Western Europe, has itself now become globalized. But this was not the result of processes of modern functional differentiation, associated with modernization, but rather the result of the European global colonial expansion and of the intercivilizational dynamics that developed between the West and its cultural and religious “others.” In any case, any discussion of secularization as a global process should start with the reflexive observation that one of the most important global trends is the globalization of the category of “religion” itself and of the binary classification of reality into “religious/secular” which it entails.

Leaving aside the question that has dominated most theories of secularization, namely whether religious beliefs and practices are declining or growing as a general modern trend throughout the world, one can confidently claim that “religion” has become an indisputable global social fact. That is to say, religion has become a discursive reality, both an abstract category as well as a system of classification of reality, used by modern individuals as well as by modern societies across the world, by religious as well as by secular authorities.

But the globalization of the Western European secular-religious regime leads not, as in Europe, to what Marcel Gauchet called “the exit from religion.” Rather, as in the United States, it leads to all kinds of novel religious transformations. Indeed, what characterizes the contemporary global moment is not only the fact that all forms of human religion – past and present, from the most “primitive” to the most “modern” – are available for individual and collective appropriation. Equally relevant is that fact that, increasingly, they must learn to coexist side by side in today’s global cities.

Certainly one finds throughout the globe a tremendous variety of secular regimes of separation of religious and political authority as well as of state management of religion and religious pluralism. And certainly one finds very different patterns of majority/minority relations mainly structured by different forms of nationalism and by different immigration regimes. Yet the secular state management of religion is everywhere under siege, or at least in need of substantive revision, as it confronts everywhere the expansion of the principle of individual religious freedom, increasing religious pluralization, and new transnational religious dynamics linked to in/voluntary immigration and globalization.

A global comparative look at post-colonial global cities throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America would seem to indicate that the “new world” paradigm of religious innovation and pluralization appears more adequate and fruitful than the old European paradigm of secularization and religious decline. Indeed, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), grouped until recently together as emergent socio-economic powers, are all characterized by diverse patterns of religious pluralism.

In our contemporary global secular age, what were at first divergent roads to secularization and religious pluralism are becoming ever more intertwined. More societies are becoming simultaneously more religious and more secular, though in diverse ways. But everywhere the parallel religious and secular dynamics are becoming ever more intertwined and interrelated.

Not only the so-called “secular” societies of the West but the entire globe is becoming increasingly more secular and “disenchanted” in the sense that (1) the cosmic order is increasingly defined by modern science and technology, (2) the social order is increasingly defined by the interlocking of “democratic” states, market economies, and mediatic public spheres, and (3) the moral order is increasingly defined by the calculations of rights-bearing individual agents who claim human dignity, liberty, equality, and the capacity to pursue happiness.

Yet, comparisons between religious America and secular Europe, or the evidence seen in the enormous variety of religious revivals, religious conflicts, and religious interventions in politics around the world, all make clear that within the same secular immanent frame one can encounter very diverse religious dynamics. Even continental Western Europe is being transformed by global migrations and most societies are becoming increasingly more religiously plural, while also being increasingly secular. It is in this respect that the disenchantment of the world does not necessarily entail the disenchantment of consciousness, the decline of religion, or the end of magic. On the contrary, our secular world shows remarkable signs of being strangely compatible with all forms of re-enchantment.

José Casanova is a professor in the departments of Sociology and Theology at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Berkley Center where his work focuses on globalization, religions, and secularization. Among his recent books is Jesuits and Globalization: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Challenges, which he co-authored with Thomas Banchoff. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the New School for Social Research.

[1] This is an abridged version of the Karel Dobbelaere Lecture I delivered at the 2017 Meeting of ISSR (International Society for the Sociology of Religion) in Lausanne in June. Its publication is forthcoming in Social Compass.

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