Historicizing Secularity

A Proposal for Comparative Research from a Global Perspective

In: Comparative Sociology
Monika Wohlrab-Sahr Professor of Cultural Sociology, University of Leipzig Leipzig Germany

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Christoph Kleine Professor for the History of Religions, University of Leipzig Leipzig Germany

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Drawing upon the critique of secularization theory, especially its lack of historical depth, this article outlines a research agenda that focuses on a specific – but fundamental – aspect of secularization: it aims at the historicization of conceptual distinctions and institutional differentiations between the religious and the secular. The authors employ the heuristic concept of ‘secularity’ to refer to these demarcations, and argue that secularization studies should give due consideration to their historical predecessors in various world regions. This seems important against the background of enduring criticisms, which consider such distinctions and differentiations either as an exclusively Western achievement or as a colonial imposition on non-Western regions. Taking into account the development of different historical paths, the authors highlight the transcultural, but in its concrete shape nevertheless culturally specific emergence of distinctions and differentiations related to religion, and propose secularity as a tertium comparationis for comparative research in this field. The authors introduce two different religious and societal settings in the medieval period – Japanese Buddhism and Islam in the Middle East – in order to illustrate the divergent ideational and structural backgrounds to the development of relations between the religious and the secular.

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