Report: the second session of the seminar “Secularization, Religion, State”

14 May, 2009 HANEDA Masashi, NAITO Mariko, Secularization, Religion, State

On May 11th, the second session of the seminar “Secularization, Religion, State” was held.

In order to consider the relationship between secularization, religion, and state in the Western context, participants engaged in the discussion developed in Religion and Modernity (Shûkyô to modernity, ed. Shôichirô Takesawa, Tokyo: Sekai Shisôsha, 2006.)

Noriko Kanahara (doctoral student, UTCP), who led the discussion, summarized the following three chapters: preface by Shôichirô Takesawa, “Secularization and the Church: following Wilson’s Secularization Thesis” by Hiroshi Yamanaka and “Genealogy of the Sacred: from Durkheim to Eliade” by Shôichirô Takesawa.

In the preface of Religion and Modernity Takesawa addresses the purpose of the book: to consider the relationship of religion and modernity with the recognition that the concept of religion was established in the process of modernization and determines the outline of modernity. It also aims at examining the validity and effectiveness of concepts like “secularization”, which have been extensively discussed in religious studies and the sociology of religion.

In “Secularization and Church: following Wilson’s Secularization Thesis” Hiroshi Yamanaka outlines the sociologist Bryan Wilson’s secularization thesis and responses to his thesis in the arguments in the sociology of religion. By focusing on studies which examine church devotion in England, Yamanaka points out that although they challenge Wilson’s thesis, their empirical approaches share with Wilson the notion that modern societies are less religious because modernity itself undermines the plausibility of religion.

In “Genealogy of the Sacred: from Durkheim to Eliade” Shôichirô Takesawa argues how the religious scholars, Emille Durkeim, Roger Caillois and Mircea Eliade established the concept of “the sacred.” Takesawa presents how the concept of the sacred was established as a response to the claim to overcome problems in the modern society. He stresses the fact that “the sacred”, which has been a very important concept in religious studies, is not universal and permanent but socially and historically constructed in order to overcome modernity.

In the discussion, participants enjoyed an active exchange of ideas including the important claim that Wilson’s secularization thesis and related arguments lack postcolonial perspectives, which illuminate the immigrants’ role in the process of secularization in nation-states. The dialogue centered on the problems of concepts which have worked as the framework of the humanities but have been exposed as socially and historically constructed. On the other hand, we cannot deny the fact that “secularization” and “the sacred” have functioned as key concepts to describe the human condition and society. How then could we describe them without these concepts? Should we establish new concepts to approach them? The discussion was stimulating and it evoked a fundamental question to seek for new approaches in the humanities.

Reported by Mariko Naito

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