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 façade 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 4The 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.