Differentiation and De-Differentiation

Differentiation and De-Differentiation September 10, 2015

In their editorial introduction to Globalizing the Sacred, Manual Vasquez and Marie Marquardt explain the limitations of secularization theory. Some secularization theorists, recognizing that the theory’s universal claims have proven false, put forward a qualified secularization theory. Though secularization as such doesn’t explain the progress of modernity, modernity does differentiate spheres, which has effects similar to those of secularization. When social spheres are differentiated from one another, and from the religion outlook that provided the overall frame of reference in “traditional” societies, those spheres become effectively secularized, no longer beholden to religious claims.

Vasquez and Marquardt point out that “Modernity is characterized not just by differentiation but also by dedifferentiation. . . . For example, the rise of the modern nation entails not only processes of individuation and specialization but also standardizing discourses and disciplinary practices that sought to manage populations and turn them into a unified people (Volk) with a culture and territory.” Secularization theory itself betrays this same “dialectic of differentiation and de-differentiation: “Indeed, while the secularization paradigm is about differentiation, difference is grounded and ‘disciplined’ within the framework of foundational dichotomies such as tradition versus modernity, faith versus reason, religion versus science, Gemeinschaft versus Gesellschaft, traditional versus instrumental authority, ideology (superstructure) versus economy (base), and mechanical versus organic solidarity.”

This falsifies the more modest secularization thesis, put forward for example in Jose Casanova’s Public Religion in the Modern World. Casanova to the contrary, differentiation is not a “general modern structural trend.” It is not the case that “modernity entails a necessary movement toward higher levels of differentiation, whereby religion, although not privatized, is forced to conform to demands of rationality if it is to survive.”

The globalization of the title figures in here too, since globalization works against any simple story of differentiation as it “challenges established spatio-temporal arrangements, such as the nation-state, and undermines the separation among economic, political, and cultural spheres of action, the relation between the religious and the secular becomes even more complicated, pointing us beyond difference toward hybridity.” 

Again, not simply differentiation but differentiation and de-differentiation, which produces not pure forms (as moderns liked to think) but impure hybrids.

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