Abstract

This essay provides an introduction to the secularization debate as it presents itself at the end of the 1990s. After a conceptual survey from the mid-1960s to the present, we focus on the empirical and historical elements that undergird both the claims of secularization theory and those of its principal critics. Secularization theory is placed in relationship both to the Religion of Reason of the Enlightenment and developments in European religious historiography during the nineteenth century. The underlying conflict to be resolved with respect to “secularization” is whether the term can be used in a relatively value-neutral analytic way or whether it inherently carries unsubstantiated value presuppositions.

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