How Secularization Impacts Religion: A Conversation with Nancy Ammerman and José Casanova 

Nancy Ammerman
Boston University

José Casanova
Georgetown University

Moderated by Mark Massa, S.J.

Date: Tuesday, April 5, 2022
Time: 2 - 3pm
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Two of the leading sociologists of religion over the past thirty years, Nancy T. Ammerman and José Casanova, join Boisi Center director Mark Massa, S.J. for a conversation about how to think about secularization as it impacts public religion and everyday ‘lived’ religion in the United States today.


Nancy T. Ammerman joined Boston University's School of Theology faculty in 2003 as professor of sociology of religion, after having previously taught at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (1984-95) and at Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research (1995-2003).  While at Boston University, she also served the College of Arts and Sciences as associate dean of the faculty for the social sciences (2015-18), as chair of the department of sociology (2007-13), and director of the graduate division of religious studies (2014-15). She retired from BU in 2019 but remains active in research, writing, speaking and advising.

Ammerman’s earliest work explored grassroots Fundamentalists and analyzed the organizational architecture of the 1980s conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. Her most recent research has focused on everyday lived religion across a wide religious and geographic spectrum, including working with Grace Davie (University of Exeter) to coordinate an international team of scholars to assess “Religions and Social Progress” for the International Panel on Social Progress. Her latest book is Studying Lived Religion: Contexts and Practices (2021).

Headshot of Casanova

José Casanova is a Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Theology and Religious Studies at Georgetown University. From 1987 to 2007 he served as Professor of Sociology at the New School for Social Research, NY. His book, Public Religions in the Modern World, (Chicago, 1994) has become a modern classic and has been translated into many languages, including Japanese, Arabic, and Turkish. He is also the author of Europa’s Angst vor der Religion (Berlin U.P., 2009), Genealogías de la Secularización (Barcelona: Anthropos, 2012) and Global Religious and Secular Dynamics (Brill, 2019). He has also co-edited with Thomas Banchoff, The Jesuits and Globalization (Georgetown UP, 2016) and with Jocelyne Cesari, Islam, Gender and Democracy in Comparative Perspective (0xford, 2017).

Casanova holds a B.A. in philosophy from the Seminario Metropolitano in Zaragoza, an M.A. in theology from Universität Innsbruck, and M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the New School for Social Research. Among other awards, Casanova is the recipient of an honorary Dr. in theology from Universität Innsbruck in 2010 and the recipient of the 2012 Theologische Preis der Salzburger Hochschulwochen in recognition of his life-long achievement in the field of theology.

In a January 14, 2022 article published in The Washington Post, reporter Michelle Boorstein makes the following argument: 

Americans are getting less “religious,” you’ve probably heard. They do fewer traditionally religious things, such as belonging to a denomination, attending worship services or feeling certain that God exists.
But what does that lead to?
As research in the past couple of decades has reflected those drops in behaviors and beliefs, conventional wisdom has lingered on a superficial understanding about what it really means — for our identities, our yearnings for something “bigger than ourselves” and our ideas about the role of religion in politics.
Now, a new crop of books dives into the many shades of gray in growing secularism and its important ramifications.
Deploying new research and theories, these writers go beyond the top-level data and argue that many Americans are, in fact, a mix. Someone may be devout personally, for instance, but strongly believe in church-state separation and the primacy of science and observable facts. They may be completely non-religious but also agnostic when it comes to the role of religion in public life.

Her perspective derives from recent books by political scientists.


American secularism is growing — and growing more complicated

American secularism has been recently on the rise, with significant implications for American identity, politics, and values. While American’s become “less religious,” there are obvious effects upon from political parties, U.S. courts, and governmental bodies. From The Washington Post, January 14, 2022.


Secularism is not atheism. A new book explains why the distinction is so critical. 

There are important distinctions between secularism and atheism, and Jacques Berlinerblau’s new book Secularism: The Basics covers these differences. Berlinerblau, a Professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University, explores how various countries have implemented secularism, even the United States.


About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated 

People who identify as Christians now comprise about 63% of the United States Population. This number is down from about 75% nearly a decade ago. While Christianity is on the decline, those who identify as having no religious affiliation are on the rise. Pew Research Center analyzes this data and offers some explanations as to why.

Ammerman, Nancy. “Social Practices and Cultural Contexts: Frameworks for the Study of Spirituality.” In Situating Spirituality: Context, Practice, and Power, edited by Brian Steensland, Jaime Kucinskas and Anna Sun, 33-48. Oxford University Press, 2022.

__________. Studying Lived Religion: Contexts and Practices. New York University Press, 2021.

__________. “Rethinking Religion: Toward a Practice Approach” American Journal of Sociology 126, no. 1 (2020): 6-51.

__________. “Spiritual but not Religious?: Beyond Binary Choices in the Study of Religion.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 52, no. 2 (2013):258-278.

__________. “Studying Parishes.” In American Parishes: Remaking Local Catholicism, edited by Gary Adler, Tricia C. Bruce, and Brian Starks, 47-66. Fordham University Press, 2019.

Ammerman, Nancy et al. “Religion in Sociology–A Mellon Working Group Reflection.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81, no. 3 (2013): 1-36.

Ammerman, Nancy T. and Grace Davie. “Religions and Social Progress: Critical Assessments and Creative Partnerships.” In Rethinking Society for the 21st Century: Report of the International Panel for Social Progress, edited by Marc Fleurbaey and Olivier Bouin. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Casanova, José. Public Religions in the Modern World. University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Films featuring José Casanova:

__________. “Conversations with José Casanova in Argentina: Catholicism as a Non-Western Globalizing Agent.” 2020.

__________. “Global Religious and Secular Dynamics: The Modern System of Classification.” 2019.

__________. “Asian Catholicism, Interreligious Colonial Encounters and Dynamics of Secularization in Asia.” 2019.

__________. “Islam, Gender, and Democracy in Comparative Perspective.” 2017.

__________. “Catholicism, Gender, Secularism, and Democracy: Comparative Reflections.” 2017.

__________. “Beyond Secularization: Religious and Secular Dynamics in Our Global Age.” 2017.

Smith, Christian. The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life. University of California Press, 2003.