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Historicizing the Secularization Debate: Church, State, and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ca. 1300 to 1700

Philip S. Gorski
American Sociological Review
Vol. 65, No. 1, Looking Forward, Looking Back: Continuity and Change at the Turn of the Millenium (Feb., 2000), pp. 138-167
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2657295
Page Count: 30
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Historicizing the Secularization Debate: Church, State, and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ca. 1300 to 1700
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Abstract

In recent years, the sociology of religion has been consumed by a debate over secularization that pits advocates of a new, rational-choice paradigm (the so-called religious economies model) against defenders of classical secularization theory. According to the old paradigm, the Western world has become increasingly secular since the Middle Ages; according to the new paradigm, it has become increasingly religious. I put these two images of religious development to the test through a detailed examination of religious life in Western Europe before and after the Reformation. I conclude that the changes in social structure and religious experience that occurred during this period were considerably more complex than either the old or new paradigms suggest and, indeed, that the two paradigms are neither so opposed nor so irreconcilable as many of their defenders contend. It is possible, indeed probable, that Western society has become more secular without becoming less religious. I discuss the limitations of the two competing paradigms and sketch the outlines of a more adequate theory of religious change.

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