29th Conference of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion
July 23 - 27, 2007 in Leipzig, Germany
Plenary Sessions
Thematic Sessions

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Secularity and religious vitality

Secularity and religious vitality are often in tension, if not in conflict, and both have many meanings. Each can be defined and examined at the macro-, meso- and micro-levels, each can be seen as a process or a stable condition, and each can occur as either the exception or the rule. But if one thing is clear in recent research, it is that secularity and religious vitality very often co-exist, in part because they frequently play off one another dialectically. This conference is intended to probe their interactions in diverse settings around the world at different levels and with various outcomes, however temporary.

According to secularization theories, secularity reflects the functional differentiation of society, the disestablishment of religion, the institutionalization of individual rights, etc. Secularity is institutionally embedded in democratic politics and may be ideologically supported by the idea of confining religion to the private sphere. Secularity may be positively correlated with modernization.

These propositions have come under hard attack during the last two decades, theoretically and empirically. Newer religious developments -- including the expansion of Protestant movements in different regions of the world, the high public profile of recent Catholic popes, the growth of alternative spiritualities, the revitalization of indigenous religious traditions, the increase in religious participation in China, the rise of diverse Islamic movements, and the surge of political Hinduism -- have demonstrated religion’s potential vitality and undermined the plausibility of some sociological theories of the secular.

Nevertheless, the relation between secularity as a characteristic of modern societies and the sometimes competing religious movements within those societies remains to be clarified. The two may be incompatible or even in open contradiction, as quarrels over religious law versus secular law indicate. But religious mobilizations may also provoke new bargaining processes between religion and secularity, as evinced by battles over blasphemy. And in some cases religious movements may encourage new attempts at social order that respond to the perceived failures of secular states, as the growth of certain Protestant and Islamic movements in different countries around the world suggests.