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The secularization (of Latin saeculum , time ' , age'; and, 'Century') is generally any form of secularism, in the strict sense but by the humanism and the Enlightenment triggered processes that the ties to religion loosened or dissolved and have assigned questions of conduct to the realm of human reason. Sociologically , this process is interpreted as a “loss of social significance for religion”. While secularization has been observed in recent history above all in Western societies (" de-Christianization "), secularization tendencies can also be observed in many other societies.


The Latin word saeculum originally meant 'age', 'century', in church Latin then 'the temporal world' and thus the earthly as opposed to the eternal . The term secularization or secularization was therefore used to designate the transition of a thing from the property of the church (dioceses and monasteries) to that of (not governed by prince-bishops ) states ( for this meaning see secularization ). Since the turn of the 19th century, the meanings have expanded further.

Today the term "secularization" is used as follows:

  • Secularization is understood - in a broader sense - as the institutional and mental process of separation between religion and state . Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde characterizes this process as “the detachment of the political order as such from its spiritual and religious determination and shaping”.
  • In terms of thought, secularization also describes the transition of terms and ideas from a primarily religious to a more general context of philosophy and zeitgeist (e.g. paradise , sin , redemption , salvation history , apocalypse, etc.).
  • In sociology , within the framework of the theory of social change , secularization is conceptually more narrowly and thematically more general and understood as a social process that occurs opposite to magization or sacralization . A distinction is made between secularization (term for the process, ie procedure) and secularity (term for the state) of a society. In general, the process of a social loss of meaning of religion in modern societies is spoken of, although there is a risk that the term modernity is used here in the sense of a circular argument.

Secularization in History

In many historical societies, secularization takes place as social change . The 5th and 4th centuries BC of ancient Greece can be seen as a classic period of secularization. In contrast, however, the historical-European term coined by the Enlightenment is mostly preferred.

Secularization in the first sense is the abolition of the state religion and results in a considerable loss of power of the religious institutions, especially the churches , in favor of the state.

Secularization in modern societies

In the western world, the separation between the state and religious institutions is generally regarded as a desirable and necessary prerequisite for a democratic form of society. In secular democracy , it is not religiously based beliefs, but the will of the voters , the common good and civic values ​​such as freedom , equality and solidarity that guide political action.

In the current discussions, secularization is understood as a comprehensive process that is centrally linked to modernization , which at the same time expresses a valuation. This process is not only reflected in the separation of state and church, but also includes a dwindling social importance of religion in the sense of a decline in its influence on public life (e.g. influence in the educational system) and the number of members of churches such as the Number of religious people. The often criticized assumption of the linearity of secularization has been supplemented in more recent works by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart as well as Detlef Pollack and his student Gert Pickel with considerations of the cultural path dependence of secularization. Contrary to popular theories of secularization, which interpret secularization as the dissolution of predefined value systems, Charles Taylor highlighted the aspect of the optionalization of behavior and world views, and also of religiosity, as a characteristic of secularization.

Secularization in an international comparison

Although religions are losing influence globally (see table), this process is taking place at very different speeds in the individual countries. In fact, there are still a number of countries in which the religiosity of the population is almost 100% (e.g. India). However, these countries also show an age-related decline in religiosity: the younger the respondents, the less important religion was for them. The only exception seems to be Israel, where the influence of religion has also increased among the younger generation.

country 2005 2012 Decrease in% points
Vietnam 53% 30% 23%
Ireland 69% 47% 22%
Switzerland 71% 50% 21%
France 58% 37% 21%
South Africa 83% 64% 19%
Iceland 74% 57% 17%
Ecuador 85% 70% 15%
United States 73% 60% 13%
Canada 58% 46% 12%
Austria 51% 42% 10%
Average worldwide 77% 68% 9%

Table: Ten countries in which religiosity has decreased significantly since 2005. Percentages indicate the proportion of the adult population who describe themselves as "religious". The global average was calculated taking into account the relative national proportions of the adult population.


In Europe, secularization began with the Enlightenment and reached preliminary climaxes in the French Revolution and under socialism with the desired complete abolition of religion (examples: introduction of a revolution calendar from the "year of the revolution", abolition of non-revolutionary festivals, radical expropriation of the monasteries and Religious orders ). However, this process is far from over, especially since the churches still exert a great influence in many countries. However, practically all European countries show a declining influence of religion, as can easily be seen in the membership development in the religious communities .

Like most other European countries, Germany has become more secular in recent decades. In 1950 only 3.6% of all Germans were non-denominational. In 1990 (after reunification) it was 22.4%, in 2013 it was 33%.

Thus the churches in Germany have a shrinking influence. So whilst there are in Germany , the state confiscated church tax , religious instruction , the state alimentation of bishops, privileges tendency enterprises and the ban on dancing at certain Christian holidays, but in eastern Germany (except in Eichsfeld ) is now statistically lowest church membership in Europe recorded.

United States

Secularization in the USA is advancing rapidly. From 2008 to 2015, the number of Americans without religious affiliation increased from 16% to just under 23%.

Before the Enlightenment, many Europeans withdrew from the monarchy “by the grace of God” by emigrating to the New World . The USA has been a secular state since its constitution in 1776. In contrast to the spread of atheism in Europe, religiosity held a high priority and led to the establishment of a large number of Reformed church congregations. There was and is a broad consensus on the social significance of Christianity, but many of the ruling elite of the American state at the time were not Christians , but Deists . Due to the fragmentation into individual Christian denominations and the generally recognized tolerance of this development, however, no monolithic ecclesiastical institution with political power, as it was known from Europe up until then, could not develop. Religiousness and religious freedom are seen as equals in the United States today.

Subsequent waves of immigration brought further religious groups from the Arab and East Asian world to the USA, which were able to establish themselves in the new environment through the tradition of religious tolerance and were seldom assimilated by the still predominant Christianity. The only exceptions are the indigenous religions of the natives and African slaves , which were pushed back by Christianization .


Although smaller religions in Canada are increasing in percentage terms (the Muslim portion of the population grew from 0.9% in 1991 to 3.2% in 2011), the role of religion has decreased noticeably overall. According to the Canadian statistics office, the number of Canadians took "no religious affiliation" ( no religious affiliation ) in the years 1991 to 2011 from 12.6% to 23.9% respectively. These numbers seem to contradict the WIN Gallup numbers (table above). Many Canadians, like many Europeans, appear to be baptized and therefore members of a church, but describe themselves as "non-religious". In 2017, 51% of Canadians believed that religion did more harm to the world than good. 34% of Canadians in 2017 believed that religion should play an important role in politics. In 2011, 45% of Canadians agreed with this statement.

Islamic world

The fundamentalist movements that have grown stronger in most Islamic countries since the 1970s are in part a reaction to an ongoing process of secularization that they want to reverse. In part, however, the fundamentalist movements are also a reaction to the - mostly corrupt - dictatorial governments of their countries. To strengthen the theocracy , the "inseparability of religion and state" is often argued in Islam, but also with the desire to create a just state again - according to the rules of Islam. Nonetheless, there is a trend towards secularization in many Muslim countries, mainly driven by the Internet.

A particularly radical development occurred in Albania after the Second World War , directly influenced by Stalinism and the Maoist cultural revolution , both of which were decidedly secularist movements. Under the dictator Enver Hoxha , violent secularization was promoted, which took on increasingly radical forms. It eventually resulted in a total religious ban in 1967, which made the practice of any religion a criminal offense. Hoxha declared the country the "first atheist state in the world", mosques and churches were systematically destroyed.

Although the forcible promotion of secularization is by no means unusual in history, this case is particularly noteworthy. If secularization was often understood by proponents as a process of “liberation”, here it was turned particularly drastically into a means of repression and ideological indoctrination . Albania from 1967 to 1990 can in some ways even be seen as the atheistic counterpart to a religious state of God.

An example of secularization is the Turkish Republic . Since 1923, with the founding of the republic, secularism has prevailed in Turkey . H. the separation of state and religion. Laicism is one of six basic principles of Kemalism (according to Mustafa Kemal ). The most important acts on the path of secularization in Turkey include the abolition of the caliphate, the introduction of the Gregorian calendar instead of the Islamic year counting according to the lunar cycle and the introduction of compulsory schooling.

One indicator of secularization in Turkey is the recognition of the theory of evolution (now recognized by 30% of the population, 50% still reject it, 20% are undecided).

Although Saudi Arabia is viewed as a theocracy, there are increasing signs of secularization among the population. Data from the polling institute Gallup show that up to 5% of the Saudi population could be atheists, even if they are officially regarded as "terrorists" and apostasy from the Muslim faith can be punished with the death penalty.

Secularization and demography

On a far-reaching consequence of secularization, u. a. US political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris pointed out on the basis of the World Values ​​Survey : In secularized societies the birth rate falls below the conservation limit (see demography ). Worldwide religious populations are growing while secular populations are shrinking - which is an important factor in current conflicts.

Religious scholars have found this connection between decreasing religiosity or secularization and demography empirically confirmed, also on the basis of ALLBUS data within Germany and a study by the Institute of German Economy . In Germany, too, people who consider themselves non-religious have fewer children on average than religious people.

See also


  • Hans Blumenberg : Secularization and Self-Assertion. Extended and revised new edition of "The Legitimacy of the Modern Age", first and second part. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1974.
  • Horst Dreier : State without God. Religion in Secular Modernity. Beck, Munich 2018.
  • Alexander Flores: Secularization and Secularism in Islam? in "Secularization - a world-historical process in Hamburg", edited by I. Lübbers, M. Rösler + J. Stüben, Frankfurt / M. 2017, ISBN 978-3-631-67547-2 , pp. 83-99.
  • Manuel Franzmann : Secularized Faith. Case reconstructions for the advanced secularization of the subject . Beltz, Weinheim 2017, ISBN 978-3-7799-2939-0 .
  • Christiane Frey, Uwe Hebekus, David Martyn: Secularization. Basic texts on the history of theory . Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2020 ISBN 978-3-518-29803-9 .
  • Karl Gabriel , Christel Gärtner, Detlef Pollack (eds.): Controversial secularization. Sociological and historical analyzes on the differentiation between religion and politics , Berlin University Press, Berlin 2012.
  • Ronald Inglehart , Pippa Norris: Sacred and Secular. Religion and Politics Worldwide. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2004, ISBN 0-521-54872-1 .
  • Hartmut Lehmann : Secularization. The European special way in matters of religion. Wallstein, Göttingen 2004, ISBN 3-89244-820-5 .
  • Hermann Lübbe : Secularization. History of an ideological concept. 3. Edition. Alber, Freiburg 2003.
  • Hans-Heinrich Nolte : Secularizations and secularizations in world history in "Secularization - a world-historical process in Hamburg", edited by I. Lübbers, M. Rösler + J. Stüben, Frankfurt / M. 2017, ISBN 978-3-631-67547-2 , pp. 51-81.
  • Ulrich Oevermann , Manuel Franzmann: Structural religiosity on the way to religious indifference. In: Manuel Franzmann, Christel Gärtner, Nicole Köck (Eds.): Religiosity in the secularized world. Theoretical and empirical contributions to the secularization debate in the sociology of religion. VS, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 978-3-8100-4039-8 , pp. 49-82.
  • Gert Pickel : Secularization as an European Fate? In: Gert Pickel, Olaf Müller: Church and Religion in Contemporary Europe. Results from Empirical and Comparative research. VS, Wiesbaden 2009, ISBN 978-3-531-16748-0 , pp. 89-122.
  • Detlef Pollack : Secularization - a modern myth? Studies on religious change in Germany. Tübingen 2003.
  • Detlef Pollack: Varieties of Secularization Theories and Their Indispensable Core , The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory , 90: 1 (2015), 60-79.
  • Helmut Stubbe da Luz Sacralization and secularization: conjunctions of religiosity and the state-church (es) relationship in "Secularization - a world-historical process in Hamburg", edited by I. Lübbers, M. Rösler + J. Stüben, Frankfurt / M . 2017, ISBN 978-3-631-67547-2 , pp. 17-49.
  • Charles Taylor : A secular age. Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2007.

Web links

Wiktionary: Secularization  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Charles Taylor : A secular age . Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2007.
  2. a b Pickel, G. (2013) ReligionMonitor: Understanding Common Ground. An International Comparison of Religious Belief. Bertelsmann Foundation.
  3. ^ Membership development in the religious communities
  4. ^ University of Trier : Concordat between the Holy See and the State of Bavaria, p. 417 ff. (PDF; 2.4 MB)
  5. America's Changing Religious Landscape , Pew Research Center, May 12, 2015.
  6. ^ Canadian National Household Survey: Religion in Canada
  7. Rebecca Joseph (2017) Religion increasingly seen as doing more harm than good in Canada: Ipsos poll , Global News, June 13, 2017
  8. ^ Heinz Halm : Oriental Seminar Tübingen ( Memento from September 29, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) May 21, 2002
  9. Miller, JD et al. (2006) Public Acceptance of Evolution. Science 313: 765-766
  10. ^ WIN-Gallup 2012 Global Index of Religion and atheism ( Memento of October 16, 2012 in the Internet Archive ).
  11. Fisher, M. & Dewey, C. (2013) A surprising map of where the world's atheists live . Washington Post, online
  12. Whitnall, A. 2014 Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to crack down on political dissidents , Independent, April 1, 2014
  13. Michael Blume, Carsten Ramsel, Sven Graupner: Religiosity as a demographic factor . Marburg Journal of Religion 2006/11 (1): pp. 1–24 (PDF; 514 kB) June 2006
  14. ^ Institute of the German Economy : Children - Also a question of conviction ( Memento from May 16, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) 1st quarter 2007