Introduction: Secularization and Its Discontents

  • Matthew Sharpe
  • Dylan Nickelson
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 5)


Sigmund Freud’s 1927 work The Future of Illusion expresses the great psychoanalyst’s most whiggish assessment of the situation of Western, post-enlightenment societies. In it, Freud reanimates the ancient tradition of the materialist-Epicurean criticism of religion, with its skepticism concerning all invisible powers. For Freud, famously, the religious belief in higher, supernatural deities—particularly, the monotheistic God—represents a wish-fulfillment and illusion (Freud 1927: 30, 43). This illusion takes its particular shapes from our earliest childhood experiences of helplessness, and the longing for an all-protecting, omnibenevolent father. With the progress of science, and its benefits in technology, Freud opined that the period of the cultural pre-eminence of religion in the West was over. Civilization and its Discontents, written 3 years later, expresses a similarly sceptical assessment of religion. Whether founded in an oceanic, mystical sentiment of oneness, or the refined language of the theologians, religion remains for Freud ‘patently infantile’ (Freud 1930: 86). Between 1927 and 1930, however, Freud’s assessment of the wider prospects of modern Kultur shifted, if it did not entirely reverse. With the fortunes of fascism rising, and the first clouds of renewed European war forming on the horizon, Freud now argues that the psychological price demanded by the modern world’s manifold civilizational advances is perhaps too high. The sexual and aggressive impulses modern society demands subjects renounce must return in the forms of organized violence, collective and individual neuroses—and in the same form of unconscious guilt Freud had argued elsewhere animated the totems and taboos of the great religions (Freud 1913, 1938). Although Freud did not draw the conclusion, the logic of his wider Kulturpessimismus points to the claim that the psychologically deep-set ‘illusions’ of religion could expect a long and viable future.


Religious Believer Political Theology Theological Concept Social Imaginary Secular Modernity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Berger, P.L. 1969. The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociological theory of religion. Garden City: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  2. Berger, P.L. 1999. The desecularization of the world: A global overview. In The desecularization of the world: Resurgent religions and world politics, ed. G. Weigel, D. Martin, J. Sacks, G. Davie, T. Weiming, and A.A. An-Na’im, 1–18. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.Google Scholar
  3. Blumenberg, H. 1983. The legitimacy of the modern age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Brierley, P.W. 1998. Religion in Great Britain 1900–2000. London: Christian Research.Google Scholar
  5. Bruce, S. 2002. God is dead: Secularization in the west. London: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  6. Bruce, S. 2006. Secularization and the importance of individualized religion. Hedgehog Review 8(35): 35–45.Google Scholar
  7. Bruce, S. 2011. Secularization: In defence of an unfashionable theory. UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Calhoun, C., M. Juergensmeyer, and J. van Antwerpen. 2011. Rethinking secularism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Camus, A. 2008 [1952]. The rebel: An essay on man in revolt. London: Paw Prints.Google Scholar
  10. Casanova, J. 1994. Public religions in the modern world. Chicago: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  11. Casanova, J. 2006. Rethinking secularization: A global comparative perspective. Hedgehog Review 8: 7–22.Google Scholar
  12. Crockett, A., and D. Voas. 2006. Generations of decline: Religious change in 20th century Britain. Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion 45: 567–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dobbelaere, K. 1981. Theories of secularization. Current Sociology 29: 15–30.Google Scholar
  14. Dobbelaere, K. 1999. Towards an integrated perspective on the processes related to the descriptive concept of secularization. Sociology of Religion 60: 229–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dobbelaere, K. 2002. Secularization: An analysis at three levels. Brussells: Presses Interuniversitaires Européennes.Google Scholar
  16. Fincke, R., and R. Stark. 1998. Religious choice and competition. American Sociological Review 63: 761–766.Google Scholar
  17. Freud, S. 1913. Totem and taboo. In Standard edition of the psychological works of sigmund freud, ed. and trans. J. Strachey. Vol. XIII, 1–161. London: Hogarth Press, 1953–1974.Google Scholar
  18. Freud, S. 1927. The future of an illusion. In Standard edition, Vol. XXI, 1–56.Google Scholar
  19. Freud, S. 1930. Civilization and its discontents. In Standard edition, Vol. XXI, 58–149.Google Scholar
  20. Gabor, G., and H. de Vriese. 2009. Rethinking secularization. UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  21. Gaukroger, S. 2008. The emergence of a scientific culture: science and the shaping of modernity, 1210–1685. London: Clarendon, Oxford.Google Scholar
  22. Geroulanos, S. 2010. An atheism that is not humanist emerges in French thought. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Gorski, P.S., and A. Altinordu. 2008. After secularization? Annual Review of Sociology 34: 55–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Habermas, J. 1983. Political-philosophical profiles. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  25. Habermas, J. 2006. Religion in the public sphere. European Journal of Philosophy 14: 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Heidegger, M. 1969. The ontotheological constitution of metaphysics. In Identity and difference. Trans. J. Stambough. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  27. Iannaconne, L.R., R. Finke, and R. Stark. 1997. Deregulating religion: The economies of church and state. Economical Inquiry 35: 350–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kojève, A. 1968. Introduction a la Lecture de Hegel: leçons sur La phénoménologie de l’esprit, professées de 1933 à 1939 à l’École des hautes-études, ed. R. Queneau. Paris: Gallimard, TEL Edition.Google Scholar
  29. Löwith, K. 1949. Meaning in history. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  30. Martin, D. 2005. On secularization: Towards a revised generalised theory. London: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  31. Marx, K. 1975 [1844]. On the jewish question. In Marx and engels collected works, vol. 3. Moscow: Progress Publishers.Google Scholar
  32. Milbank, J. 1993. Theology and social theory: Beyond secular reason. London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  33. Pecora, V.P. 2006. Secularization and cultural criticism: Religion, nation, & modernity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  34. Schmitt, C. 1985 [1923]. Political theology: Four chapters on the concept of sovereignty. Trans. G. Schwab. Chicago: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  35. Stark, R., and W.S. Bainbridge. 1985. The future of religion: Secularization, revival, and cult formation. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  36. Stark, R., and R. Finke. 2000. Acts of faith: Explaining the human side of religion. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  37. Stark, R., and I.R. Iannaconne. 1994. A supply-side reinterpretation of the so-called secularization of Europe. Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion 33: 230–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Steinfels, P. 2008. Modernity and belief: Charles Taylor’s a secular age. Commonweal 135: 14–21. May 9.Google Scholar
  39. Stiegler, B. 2010. Ce qui fait que la vie vaut la peine d’être vécue: De la pharmacologie. Paris: Flammarion.Google Scholar
  40. Swatos Jr., W.H., and D.V.A. Olsen. 2000. The secularization debate. London: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  41. Taubes, J. 2009. Occidental eschatology. Trans. D. Ratmoko. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Taylor, C. 2007. The secular age. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Toscano, A. 2010. Fanaticism: On the uses of an idea. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  44. Warner, R. 2010. Secularization and its discontents. London: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  45. Wegner, P.E. 2009. Life between two deaths, 1989–2001: U.S. culture in the long nineties. Durham/London: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Wilson, B.R. 1966. Religion in secular society: A sociological comment. London: Watts.Google Scholar
  47. Wilson, B.R. 1982. Religion in sociological perspective. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Wilson, B.R. 1998. The secularization thesis: Criticism and rebuttals. In Secularization and social integration, ed. R. Laermans et al. Leuven: Leuven University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Deakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia

Personalised recommendations