Dating back at least to Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, social theorists have generally seen secularization—the decline of religious practice, the diminished influence of organized religion, and the lessened salience of religious interpretations—of human existence as an integral part of modernization. In view of the continued—in fact, often increasing—importance of religion in the contemporary world, this assertion has been the subject of some dispute. Weir, in his study of “free religion” in nineteenth-century Germany, approaches the problem from a different perspective. He suggests that the key concept is not secularization but secularism, the development of a body of ideas and of the organizations incorporating them that asserted a nonreligious, increasingly science-based view of the world. This approach succeeds in illuminating a number of developments in Central Europe’s nineteenth century, but secularism does not always seem conceptually adequate to resolve the issues raised by the concept of secularization.

Weir begins...

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