The Myth of the Secular, Part 2

photo credit: <a href=''>ecstaticist</a> via <a href=''>photopin</a> <a href=''>cc</a>

photo credit: ecstaticist via photopin cc


The secular is often defined as the absence of religion, but secular society is in many ways a product of religion. In conversation with IDEAS producer David Cayley British sociologist David Martin explores the many ways in which modern secular society continues to draw on the repertoire of themes and images found in the Bible.

It was once common to define secularization as the overcoming of religion.  Karl Marx's famous description of religion as the opiate of the people is typical of countless modern theories that saw religion as false consciousness, an ideological fa├žade that hid humanity's real situation. 

Philosopher Charles Taylor calls these theories "subtraction stories" religion is a kind of ideological froth, the secular is the underlying reality that is revealed when this froth is blown away.

This was the dominant view when British sociologist David Martin began his academic career more than half a century ago. Fifty years later it no longer is, and Martin can certainly claim some of the credit. He has been one of the pioneers of a new style of secularization theory which has argued that Christianity shaped the very foundations of modern Western society - that it's the seedbed from which our social imagination has grown - shaping secular sensibilities just as surely as religious ones. Martin is now in his 80's and retired as professor of sociology at the London School of Economics and various other universities.

Listen to other episodes in the series:

The Myth of the Secular, Part 1
Western social theory once insisted that modernization meant secularization and secularization meant the withering away of religion. But religion hasn't withered away, and this has forced a rethinking of the whole idea of the secular. IDEAS producer David Cayley talks to Craig Calhoun, Director of the London School of Economics, and Rajeev Barghava of India's Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 3
Early in the post-colonial era, politics in most Muslim countries were framed in secular and nationalist terms. During the last thirty years, the Islamic revival has dramatically changed this picture. Anthropologist Saba Mahmood talks with IDEAS producer David Cayley about her book, The Politics of Piety.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 4
The Fundamentals was a series of books, published by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles between 1910 and 1915, which tried to set the basics of Christianity in stone. Fundamentalism now refers to any back-to-basics movement. Malise Ruthven's Fundamentalism asks what all these movements have in common, in this feature interview with David Cayley.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 5
"All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts." So wrote German legal theorist Carl Schmitt in a book called Political Theology. American legal theorist Paul Kahn has just published Political Theology: Four New Chapters in which he argues that the foundations of the American state remain theological. He explores this theme with IDEAS producer David Cayley.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 6
In 1990 British theologian John Milbank published a five-hundred-page manifesto called Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. The book argued that theology should stop deferring to social theories that are just second-hand theology and declare itself, once again, the queen of the sciences. The book led, in time, to a movement called "Radical Orthodoxy." IDEAS producer David Cayley profiles John Milbank.

The Myth of the Secular, Part 7
IDEAS producer David Cayley concludes his series with three thinkers who believe that division of the world into the secular and the religious both oversimplifies and impoverishes political and religious life. Political philosopher William Connolly argues for a richer and more inclusive public sphere; historian of religion Mark Taylor calls for a new philosophy of religion; and Fred Dallmayr presents the case for a deeper and more thorough-going pluralism.

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