We explain what secularization is, its causes and its consequences. In addition, we tell you how it is related to secularism.

Iconoclasts destroy religious images
In secularization, something or someone becomes more civil and less religious or theological.

What is secularization?

secularization It is the process of abandonment or distancing from a religious doctrine that a person, an institution or a society goes through. That is, as something or someone becomes more civil and less religious or theological, it can be said that secularizes, what is done secular either secular.

The term “secularization” comes from the adjective “secular”, which is a derivative of the Latin word saecularisfrom saeculum (“century”). This term in late Latin was used to refer to mundane or profane affairs, committed to the civil and ordinary world, and not to the world of religious transcendence. so people secular They are those who live immersed in the world of their time, as opposed to those who are part of some ecclesiastical organization.

In fact, within the religious order it is usual to distinguish between the clergy secularone who has dealings with people and who lives immersed in society and its affairs, such as priests and parish priests, and the clergy regularthe one who lives away from the world and according to a norm or rule dictated by the doctrine, like the monks and practitioners of the monastic life.

secularization It was, in historical terms, a process that Western society went through between the 16th and 17th centuries., a consequence of the collapse of the medieval religious order and the advent of modernity. Over time, other societies went through their own secularization movements, embracing a secular logic, and some others, at times, abandoned secularism to re-impose a religious order (as happened after the Iranian Revolution).

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The difference between a secular country and a religious country is that in the former, religion and the church do not play a central role in the conduct of the State.

See also: Atheism

Causes of secularization

The secularization process, that is, the abandonment of the religious order, can be due to very different and personal causes, when it comes to an individual. While In historical and sociological terms, the secularization process is due to the combination of political, social and economic forces. of the moment. For example, in the case of Western secularization, produced in Europe from the 16th and 17th centuries to the 19th, it is possible to identify the following causes:

  • The end of the Middle Ages and of the feudal order, which allowed the rise of a new culture: the bourgeoisie. This brought with it revolutions and a new social class (the middle class), which violated the traditional religious precepts associated with aristocracy and royalty (such as that the king was placed on the throne by God).
  • The Renaissance and humanism, which radically changed the cultural order, placing the human being and reason at the center of modern thought (anthropocentrism) instead of God and religious faith. The French Enlightenment similarly laid the foundations for liberalism: secular education, the secular state, and the reduction of the power of the Church.
  • The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, which shook the traditional religious order, allowing the rise of new Christian (Protestant) churches and weakening the political and social hold of the papacy over Europe. Northern Europe was thus able to have its own versions of religion.
  • The religious wars that shook Europe in the 17th century and they pitted Catholics against Protestants, and they turned religion into a matter that was better not discussed in public, and they relegated it to the realm of the private, the intimate.
  • From the 19th century, new scientific discoveries (such as the theory of evolution and Darwinism) and new philosophical approaches to reality (such as Marxism and other sociopolitical doctrines) that fostered a critical and atheistic attitude towards life.
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Consequences of secularization

A couple celebrates their marriage without the intervention of the church
With secularization, the Church is not the main institution in charge of registering marriages.

Secularization brought with it, in the modern world, a new political, social and cultural order, in which the Church and religion no longer constituted a great political power, in charge, among other things, of education, the civil registry of people and the management of patients and deaths, for example. All of this passed into the hands of the modern secular state.

The church and religion, therefore, began to occupy an intimate, personal and subjective role in society. This means that it is no longer the state’s business which religion its citizens practice, and that the state no longer has an official religion (secularism). As a result, in many regions of the world religious clashes are a thing of the past.

On the other hand, the weakening of traditional monotheistic religions left the human being with a certain spiritual void that other modern and postmodern doctrines have tried to fill. For example, the advent at the end of the 20th century of the New Agepseudosciences and conspiracy thinking have an obvious religious purpose: to reconnect the human being with the idea of ​​a higher order, of the transcendent and of universal truth.

Secularization and secularism

Secularization is the process of abandoning religiosity and adopting, instead, secularism. The latter can, then, be defined as the philosophical, political, social and cultural principle which states that human affairs must be approached rationallymaterialist, without resorting formally to religious thought.

Secularism manifests itself in different ways, in the political, social and cultural fields. For example, the separation between church and state, the secularism of education or the control of ecclesiastical property by civil law. There are different models of secularism, such as the French, the Anglo-Saxon, the Turkish or the Indian, which vary more or less with respect to the neutrality of the State in religious matters.

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Continue with: Scientific thinking


  • “Secularization” on Wikipedia.
  • “Secular” in the Dictionary of the Language of the Royal Spanish Academy.
  • “Etymology of Secular” in the Online Spanish Etymological Dictionary.
  • “The consequences of secularization. Are we left without religion yet?” by David Vilchis at the Mexican Institute of Christian Social Doctrine.
  • “Secularism (social movement)”in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.