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Secularization and the politics of traditionalism: The case of the right-to-life movement

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Research on the traditionalist movement against abortion needs alignment with currents in historical sociology, the theory of social movements and the sociology of politics. The religious (specifically, Christian) basis of the right-to-life movement has attracted considerable attention in the literature. The movement is seen as a traditionalist bloc claiming to oppose secularization and return to customary restrictions. However the “tradition” in question appears to be a recent social construction. There is slim warrant in the actual traditions of Western religion for asserting a categorical right to life. As a result, the movement's ideology is best approached as the product of—rather than the antidote to—secularizing processes (including the demographic transition, discourse about rights, markets for symbolic entrepreneurs and the separation of church and state) and possibly as an unintended import from non-Western religion. Implications for traditionalism, the functions of religion, and the study of countermovements are explored. This case illustrates the value of attending to historical sequences and the external cultural environments of social movements.

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Cavanaugh, M.A. Secularization and the politics of traditionalism: The case of the right-to-life movement. Sociol Forum 1, 251–283 (1986).

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  • Social Issue
  • Social Movement
  • Social Construction
  • Cultural Environment
  • Demographic Transition