XVII ISA World Congress of Sociology, Sociology on the move, Gothenburg, Sweden, July 2010



Plenary Themes

Five PlenaryThemes will be held parallel at 13:45-15:15 during 5 days, from Monday through Friday, July 12-16, 2010. Each Plenary will focus on a different theme which will be developed in five sessions.

Congress Programme

Sessions descriptions

Plenary sessions are solicited directly by the ISA Programme Committee and only selected scholars are invited to present papers or participate in round table debates.

Theme 5. Religion and Power


Coordinators: Grace Davie, University of Exeter, UK, Hans Joas, University of Erfurt, Germany, Björn Wittrock, Swedish Collegium for Advance Study, Sweden

For a long time most social scientists – and not only they – have believed that secularization is a necessary corollary of modernization processes. In the last two decades, however, this (often tacit) assumption has been challenged very forcefully. Religions revitalization in several parts of the world, new forms of the instrumentalization of religion by political power, but also the religious inspiration of social movements against oppression have become crucial topics of social research and social theory. Moreover, this rethinking of ‘religion and power’ throws new light on the history of secularization and on current religious trends in a global perspective.

Session 1: Theoretical challenges
Monday, July 12, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Organizer: : Hans Joas, University of Erfurt, Germany

The widespread critique of the secularization thesis constitutes a major challenge not only for the sociology of religion, but for the self-understanding of modernity in general. There is a growing awareness of a fact David Martin had already emphasized in his pioneering studies, namely that there is not one process of secularization, but several, depending on the institutional constellations in different countries. The historically oriented sociology of religion has more and more focused on the phases in which the crucial features of the ‘world religions’ emerged. Others analyze the consequences the long-term coexistence of secular and religious world views will have on social and political processes. This session will present responses from three leading scholars to these theoretical challenges.

Session 2: The Importance of history
Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Organizer: : Björn Wittrock, Swedish Collegium for Advance Study, Sweden

The formation of modernity has been coterminous with redefinitions and contestations about the relationship of societal and political institutions to religious practices. This session will examine the secularization thesis in historical context. It will also involve an analysis of forms of secularity in a long-term and non-European perspective. Furthermore it will try to demonstrate that social and political power has been profoundly shaped in interaction with religio-cultural reforms. As a consequence standard sociological theories of the formation of the modern state may have to be reconsidered against the backdrop of a re-examination of religion and power in historical context.

Session 3: Religion and public spheres
Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Organizer: : José Casanova, Georgetown University, USA

Both, liberal political theories and sociological theories of secularization had presupposed the privatization of religion either as a functional requirement of modern democratic politics or as a functional consequence of modern differentiation. Global historical developments in the last decades have shown the thesis of privatization of religion to be empirically untenable and normatively problematic in so far as it was grounded on secularist assumptions concerning religion. Modern theories of the public sphere shared similar secularist assumptions concerning moral discursive traditions and the use of public reason, which also have been undergoing their own critical revisions. The field is now open for a truly comparative historical analysis across civilizations of the complex and changing interrelations between religions and public spheres. This panel explores the transformations in those interrelations in the world of Islam, in Latin American Catholicism, and in the heartland of secularization, in Western Europe.


Sessions 4 and 5 in this plenary stream will offer a series of case studies taken from different parts of the world.  Session 4 will open up a global perspective, paying particular attention to the exponential growth of Pentecostalism in the modern world and to what is currently happening in China.  Clearly these questions overlap – Pentecostalism is growing fast in China amongst other places.  Both, moreover, involve many millions of people.

Session 5 will concentrate on the European case, asking in particular whether this should or should not be considered an exception is global terms.  The central question can be put as follows.  Is Europe secular because it is modern, or is Europe secular because it is European?  A second question follows from this.  If Europe is an exceptional (or at least a distinctive) case in global terms, are the tools, concepts and paradigms which have emerged primarily from this part of the world helpful for our understanding of what is happening elsewhere – including the examples in Session 4?

Session 4: Empirical applications 1: Thinking globally
Thursday, July 15, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Organizer: Grace Davie, University of Exeter, UK

Session 5: Empirical applications 2: The (exceptional) European case
Friday, July 16, 2010, 13:45-15:15
Organizer: : Philip Gorski, Yale University, USA