VOL. 2, NO. 5, PGS. 11–30


The State, Religion, Democracy
The Transformation of Western Europe
Alfonso Pérez-Agote

Alfonso Pérez-Agote is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the Complutense University of Madrid. He is also the author of Cambio religioso en España: los avatares de la secularización.

This translation has been automatically generated and has not been verified for accuracy.

When modernity enters through the door, religion goes out the window. This was the prediction that sociologists made —with the notion of the secularisation process1— during the 19th century and well into the 20th century. When rationality, science and technology become the predominant ways of thinking and acting in a society, religion —as a traditional, archaic, non-rational, even irrational symbolic universe —gradually disappears from that society. This simple diagnosis has turned out to be misleading, as sociologists who have been working on the subject since the last quarter of the last century have shown. I say misleading and not false because there is some truth in this diagnosis, but religion in its various forms, levels and expressions has not disappeared from contemporary societies, be they poor or rich, modern or underdeveloped. This misleading diagnosis was made by European sociologists for Western European societies, societies in which religion had historically been very important but in which, by the time sociology began to develop, its importance was already declining, both from the point of view of individuals and from that of politics. But even in these societies it has not disappeared.

Sociology was born as a science that sought to analyse the processes of transformation that led Western European countries to become modern societies during the 19th and 20th centuries. Sociology analysed and theorised these processes —processes of which the science was also a part— and constituted an instrument of reflection on the evolution of the societies involved in them. But it should also be added that sociology as a discipline went beyond the limits of its concrete analyses of specific historical realities. It became a machine for predicting the processes through which other realities would pass in the future. It went beyond its analytical character and contributed to shaping the idea of what the world in general would become. Sociologists contributed to a prophecy of what the future of the world would be like. The gradual disappearance of religion —as a consequence of the growing predominance of rationality, science and technology— was an important part of this prophecy.

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