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Modernity Not Synonymous With Secularization, Expert Says


The modernization of societies does not necessarily lead to the decline of religious influence, a renowned expert on secularization told an audience yesterday on the Lincoln Center campus.

José Casanova, Ph.D., author of Public Religions in the Modern World (University of Chicago Press, 1994) and professor of sociology at the New School for Social Research, said that he envisions a process of “global denominalization” in which many religious identities throughout the modern world learn to live together and prosper. Casanova spoke at “Secularization: The Myths and Realities,” a conversation sponsored by Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture (CRC) and hosted by its co-director Peter Steinfels, Ph.D.

“Religious pluralism is a fundamental fact of modernization,” he said, “one that can lead to voluntary, reflexive reconstruction of religious identities.”

In fact, pluralist societies such as the United States, Casanova said, actually foster the strengthening of religions through “privatization.” As religions compete in a nation where the state bears no interest in any one particular religion, he said, individuals of various faiths have to promote their belief systems through more active methods.

“[America] helps reinforce religions because each religion becomes defined vis a vis the others,” said Casanova. He added this is especially true of faiths of newly-arrived immigrant populations. “Take for example the Hindus. They are better Hindus here (in the U.S.) than in India. Here, if you want to be Hindu, you have to work at it. You have to be active.”

Casanova compared the current global denunciation of Islamic fundamentalism to the historical conflict between Catholics and anticlerical forces in 19th century Europe, during the rise of industrialization, modernism and nationalism. Catholics, he said, were considered “unenlightened” and an impediment to developing democracy and secularism in Europe. And yet, he said, the Catholic Church was transformed.

“We should not put into play those theories that Islam cannot transform itself,” he said.

The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.


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