The ambiguous idea of secularization still underlies most genealogies of modernity. It denotes both a general decline in the importance of religion in society and, more specifically, the transformation of religious ideas and practices into political or economic behavior. This ambivalence can be understood as rhetorical, since it is informed by a series of metaphors and figures that make up the complex fabric of these discourses. A close reading of selected texts of Max Weber shows how they were essential to formulating the concept of secularization around 1900. The present essay analyzes the rhetorical figures and textual operations that Weber uses to describe the trajectory from the Protestant theology of salvation to the “spirit” of capitalism. Moreover, it shows how Weber incorporates religious rhetoric in his writing on the relation of science, history, and religion. If the narrative of secularization still functions as a great narrative, its plausibility and evidence reside in this rhetorical fundament that cannot be reduced to a simple argument, whether historical, sociological, or theological, but instead combines these discourses in a highly overdetermined way.
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Daniel Weidner; The Rhetoric of Secularization. New German Critique 1 February 2014; 41 (1 (121)): 1–31. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-2398624
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