End of religion?
For a long time the mantra of the “abolition of religion” (to borrow from the title of Richard Schröder’s provocative essay) has resounded insistently in the West. Philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, scientists and writers have competed to predict its end.
The most famous change that characterizes this line of thought is the withdrawal of those of religious commitment and the progressive diminishing of the sacred dimension in the affairs of the world. The underlying assumption of such a reading is a positivist view of history (Auguste Comte), understood in a linear and progressive way. Humanity over the centuries, it asserts, has passed from a primitive and superstitious approach to the world (magic, mythology, religion) to full rational maturity (the “positive” age), characterized by real, useful, certain, precise and constructive knowledge, proper to the scientific mentality. Such a view hails the advancement of science and the consequent irreversible retreat of “primitive” knowledge.
This theory was enthusiastically embraced by almost all subsequent sociologists until the second half of the 1960s: “With the sole exceptions of Alexis de Tocqueville, Vilfredo Pareto and William James, the secularization thesis was shared by all the founding fathers of the social sciences: from Karl Marx to John Stuart Mill, Auguste Comte to Herbert Spencer, Edward B. Taylor to James Frazer, Ferdinand Tönnies to Georg Simmel, Émile Durkheim to Max Weber, Wilhelm Wundt to Sigmund Freud, Lester Ward to William G. Sumner, Robert Park to George H. Mead. In fact, the consensus was such that the theory was not only not challenged, but not even subjected to empirical verification, since it was taken for granted […]. Their approaches may have differed, but their diagnoses reflected the notion that the old historical religions would never survive the onslaught of the modern world.”
The subsequent course of time, however, has showed a more complex reality.