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SECULARIZATION “Secularization,” Encyclopedia of Religion , (New York: Macmillan), Vol.13, pp.159-165. SECULARIZATION. The term secularization came into use in European languages at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, where it was used to describe the transfer of territories previously under ecclesiastical control to the dominion of lay political authorities. The term secularis was already in use, and the distinction between sacred and secular, roughly equivalent to the differentiation of Christian conceptions of the supernatural from all that was mundane or profane, was widely invoked to assert the superiority of the sacred. Furthermore, the church had long distinguished between those priests called "religious" and those designated as secular priests, that is, between those clergy who functioned within a religious order and those who served the wider society. Later, the term secularization was applied in a different, though related, sense, to the dispensation of priests from their vows. The term was applied in even more diverse ways once the concept acquired a more general, sociological connotation in the twentieth century. Sociologists have used this word to indicate a variety of processes in which control of social space, time, facilities, resources, and personnel was lost by religious authorities, and in which empirical procedures and worldly goals and purposes displaced ritual and symbolic patterns of action directed toward otherworldly, or supernatural, ends. The term was later applied to denote a pattern of social development that earlier sociologists, including Auguste Comte (1798-1857), had already recognized before the term secularization was in general sociological use. In the process thus described, the various social institutions become gradually distinct from one another and increasingly free of the matrix of religious assumptions that had earlier informed, and at times had inspired and dominated, their operation. Prior to this change, social action over a very wide field of human activity and organization (including work, decision-making, social and interpersonal relationships, juridical procedures, socialization, play, healing, and life-cycle transitions) is regulated in accordance with supernaturalist preconceptions. The process of structural differentiation in which social institutions (the economy, the polity, morality, justice, education, recreation, health maintenance, and familial organization) become recognized as distinctive concerns operating with considerable autonomy is also a process in which conceptions of the supernatural lose their sovereignty over human affairs, a pattern broadly identified as secularization. Conceptions of the supernatural are gradually displaced from all social institutions except those specifically devoted to cultivating knowledge about, and maintaining relationships with, the posited supernatural order. While those agencies still seek to influence other areas of social life, they become recognized as separate and increasingly circumscribed religious institutions. Definitions. This brief discourse already indicates the changing nature of the concept of
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