Notes from BPU Sri Lanka - Third Year

Secularization and Religion A (lectured by Mr. Samantha Illangakoon, recorded by Mon monk Nai Suriya) 03rd of May, 2011

                03.05.2011  LISTEN  >>>

               24.05.2011  LISTEN  >>>

Secularization and Religion A  (03rd of May, 2011)

    -        secular (mundane) and profane (super-mundane) are explained as dimension of religions by Ninian Smart. Religion gives advice with regards to the common life as well as to the spiritual life.


            During the first half of the 20th  century serious scholars expected religion to vanish before the year 2000. This has not happened. Erosion of supernatural seems to have gathered pace (higher?). Secularization is the process by which religious institutions, actions and consciousness loose their social significance. The indicators of secularization are:
1.      The takeover of the property and facilities of religious institutions by politicians.
2.      The shift from religious to secular control of various functions previously served by religion.
3.      The decline in the amount of time, energy and resources which people devote to supernatural concerns.
4.      The decay of religious institutions.
5.      The supplanting religious with technical criteria in relation to prescribed behavior.
6.      The gradual replacement of a religious consciousness, e.g., charms, rites, spells, prayers by an empirical, rational and practical outlook.
7.      The abandonment of mythical, poetic and artistic interpretations of nature and society in favor of matter, the rigorous separation of emotion and science.

-        When we study religions, we may see, that religion obstructs certain secular values, and secularism may obstruct the religion as well. Mostly the religion is a teaching which should help the society to thrive and develop well. For example, Buddhist five precepts are to be helpful for successful life of people in society. Thus some people, when they say, that secularization and religion are unfriendly forces, we should analyze whether it is sure. It may be, that religion helps secularization and otherwise.

-        In the past the temples were centers of society. Education and other things were conducted there. However, today education and other activities are held in specific places out from religious influence.

-        Sometimes we use the knowledge of religion in literature, in art, in speech and in other occasions. However, the religious belief is not practiced in the daily life. Similarly, festivities, celebrations and big occasions, though they bear signs of same practiced in the past, the modern signs are utilized also. While there would be Kandy Perahera or Marriage of Prince Williams and Catherine under the religious supervision, rarely people feel that there would be some genuine religious essence in those events.

            The main course of secularization is modernism. The western scientific and technical mood claim that science knows better than religion. Religion was not defeated, but competed with other claims to truth. Earthquakes, for example, are explained on the basis of scientific courses. Not because the gods would be angry. Moreover, many behaviors once condemned by religion, are now considered a matter of choice.

Secularization and Religion B (lectured by Mr. Samanta Ilaṅgakon) 24th of May, 2011  

           Bryan R. Wilson (died 2004) believes, that churches recognize their marginalized position in society. With alternated believes, competing for favor. Religion has become more private and less public.  This position, according to Wilson, the God no longer chooses us. It is we, who choose the God.

            Secularization occurs in the process of social change in a communally based group of people to the societally based system. This development is called 'societalization'. Through this process the life is organized societally. However, there are times, when the religion, as an institution, plays pivotal role. E.g., in 1997 the princess Diana's funeralat Westminster Abbey was broadcast all over the world. The famous singer Elton John sang a song elevating Diana to sainthood. This song spread religious and patriotic emotions. After this funeral the prime minister addressed the nation and said that he was proud to be British.

            National religious ceremonies remind us, that the sacred is still important. In the society it is generally profane living, only with occasional attention to the supernatural. The secularization is a process, which does not lead to the decline in religion, therefore secularization does not mean a decline in religion.

            Empirical indicators of secularization focus on the visible, public dimensions of religious behaviors, but they do not reach the invisible subjective dimension. Religion is taking on a more invisible private pace. It has become a matter of choice, that makes it difficult to be precise about whether people are religious and whether religion is in decline. Another difficulty in measuring religiousness is, that it expresses itself in different dimensions.

            Charles Glock identifies four dimensions with regards to religiousness:
1.      Experiential (feelings, perceptions and sensations experienced by an individual or by a group)
2.      Ritualistic (religious action rather than feelings or thought, e.g., worship, praying, church attendant, religious ceremonies)
3.      Ideological (what people believed about the nature of the divine or ultimate reality and its purpose rather than what they feel)
4.      Consequential (what people do with the attitudes they have as a result of their religious beliefs, experiences or practices)

            These dimensions are interrelated. In order to measure religiousness of an individual or a groups, the sociologists must make clear the dimension she/he is referring to. A non-church-going individual might be very religious in the consequential sense of behaving towards the poor.