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Secularization as Declining Religious Authority

Mark Chaves
Social Forces
Vol. 72, No. 3 (Mar., 1994), pp. 749-774
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.2307/2579779
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2579779
Page Count: 26
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Secularization as Declining Religious Authority
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Abstract

Secularization is most productively understood not as declining religion, but as the declining scope of religious authority. A focus on religious authority (1) is more consistent with recent developments in social theory than is a preoccupation with religion; (2) draws on and develops what is best in the secularization literature; and (3) reclaims a neglected Weberian insight concerning the sociological analysis of religion. Several descriptive and theoretical "pay-offs" of this conceptual innovation are discussed: new hypotheses concerning the relationship between religion and social movements; the enhanced capacity to conceptually apprehend and empirically investigate secularization among societies, organizations, and individuals; and clearer theoretical connections between secularization and other sociological literatures. Ironically, these connections may indeed spell the end of secularization theory as a distinct body of theory, but in a different way than previously appreciated.

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