Religion/Secularity

Authored by: Naomi Seidman

The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Jewish Cultures

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415473781
eBook ISBN: 9780203497470
Adobe ISBN: 9781135048556

10.4324/9780203497470.ch11

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Abstract

It can hardly be denied that modernity brought with it, alongside other momentous changes, the rapid and widespread secularization of Jewish communities, producing both significant percentages of secular Jews and, at various historical junctures, self-consciously secular or ideologically secularist political and cultural movements. While it is clear that Jewish secularization emerged from the larger context of European trends of secularization, it is nevertheless distinct from it. The progression traced by Max Weber from Renaissance Humanism to the Protestant Reformation and post-Calvinist capitalism, for instance, only partly correlates with the historical and cultural conditions that gave rise to Jewish secularization (Weber 1904). In recent years, the Protestant biases of what has been called “the secularization thesis” have been revised to account for the secularizing experiences of other groups, from post-Catholic European societies to Europe’s former colonies throughout the world. It is now clear to most critics that no single “secularism” exists (including in the Jewish world), despite the universalist claims and aspirations of some varieties of secularism. Under the influence of postcolonialism, the philosophical understandings of an earlier era of scholarship have given way to new political, economic, and cultural perspectives on the secularization process. With these resources, critics have called into question the empirical truth and underlying value judgments of the secularization thesis: it no longer seems obvious that the exemplary feature of modernity is the narrowing, privatizing, or “subtraction” of the religious sphere under the salutary pressure of rational thought and religious tolerance. For many observers, including some who had earlier asserted the inevitability of global secularization, it has become increasingly clear that we are living in a “desecularized” or “post-secular” age (Berger 1999).

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