What is Secularization?

Is Our Changing Society Embracing Secularization?

Pope Francis Gives State Of The World Address
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Through the past centuries, and especially in just the past few decades, society has become increasingly secularized. The shift shows change from a society based on religion to a society based on science and other norms. 

What is Secularization?

Secularization is the transition of a culture from a focus on religious values towards nonreligious attitudes. In this process, religious figureheads, such as leaders of a church, lose their authority and influence over society. 

In sociology, the term is used to describe societies that become modernized and begin to move away from religion as a guiding principle. 

Secularization in the Western World

Today, secularization in the United States is a hotly debated topic. America has been considered a Christian nation for a long time, with many Christian values guiding policies and laws. However, in recent years, with an increase in other religions as well as atheism, the nation is becoming more secularized. 

There have been movements to remove religion from government-funded daily life, such as school prayer and religious events in public schools. And with recent laws changing towards same-sex marriage, it is evident that secularization is taking place. 

While the rest of Europe embraced secularization relatively early, Great Britain was one of the last to adapt. During the 1960's, Britain experienced a cultural revolution that impacted people's views towards women's issues, civil rights, and religion. 

Additionally, funding for religious activities and churches began to wane, lessening the impact of religion in daily life. As a result, the country became increasingly secularized. 

Religious Contrast: Saudi Arabia

In contrast to the United States, Great Britain and most of Europe, Saudi Arabia is an example of a country that has refused secularization. Almost all Saudis are Muslims. While there are some Christians, they are mainly foreigners, and they are not allowed to openly practice their faith. 

Atheism and agnosticism are forbidden, and is, in fact, punishable by death. 

Because of the strict attitudes to religion, Islam is tied towards laws, rules and daily norms. Secularization is non-existent. Saudi Arabia has "Haia", a term that refers to religious police. The Haia roam the streets, enforcing religious laws regarding dress code, prayer and the separation of men and women. 

Daily life is focused on Islamic religious rituals. Businesses close several times a day for 30 minutes or more at a time to allow for prayer. And in schools, approximately half of the school day is dedicated to teaching ​religious material. Almost all books published within the nation are religious books. 

Secularization Today

Secularization is a growing topic as more countries modernize and shift away from religious values towards secular ones. While there are countries that are still focused on religion and religious law, there is increasing pressure from around the globe, especially from the United States and its allies, on those countries to secularize. 

Over the coming years, secularization will be a hotly debated topic, especially in parts of the Middle East and Africa, where religion shapes daily life.