Footnote 15 – Religious Illiteracy and Secularism

Footnote 15 – Stephen Prothero, Religious Illiteracy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), 53-55.

Stephen Prothero is Chair of the Religion Department at Boston University.

“The sociologist Peter Berger once remarked that, if India is the world’s most religious country and Sweden the least, then the United States is a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. Not exactly.  Like citizens of India, US citizens are extraordinarily religious. But so are their leaders. …

“All of this to say that the old wishful thinking about religion’s death at the hands of modernity is starting to look delusional, at least in the American instance. Some still label the United States as ‘post-Christian,’ but smart sociologists and historians have admitted the errors of their ways.  Berger, one of the star secularization theorists of the 1960’s, confessed in a book called The Desecularization of the World (1999) that secularization theory is bunk, at least as a general proposition.  ‘The world today, with some exceptions…is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever,’ Berger wrote.  ‘This means that a whole body of literature by historians and social scientists loosely labeled ‘secularization theory’ is essentially mistaken.’

“…religion has always mattered, not least in American public life. Today what needs explaining is not the persistence of religion in modern societies but the emergence of unbelief in Europe and among American leaders in media, law, and higher education.”


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