Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Religious Studies

Major Professor

Dell deChant, M.A.


Secularization, Postmodern, Cultural criticism, Religion, Sacred, Sports


When analyzing the role religion plays in contemporary American society, one is forced to address the notion of secularization. This is a term that broadly refers to the marginalization of religious influence in culture and society that began at the outset of the Enlightenment, sometime during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but, as Peter Berger argues, can actually be traced back to the times of the great Israelite prophets who emerged during the Axial Age (800-200 BCE). Throughout the available literature, proponents of the secularization thesis extend the marginalization of religious influence from the societal level to the level of individual consciousness; however, this thesis contends that these analyses appear to be inadequate in describing postmodern culture.

This thesis affirms Lyotard's description of classifying postmodernity as a time exhibiting "incredulity towards the meta-narrative." Thus, this thesis will argue that postmodern culture is not best described as secular. By employing Jacques Ellul's understanding of the sacred and Vincent Pecora's "semantic resonance" of religion, this thesis will provide a more adequate theoretic platform to develop accounts for religion in postmodernity. Through analysis of various deployments of the secularization thesis in the context of Ellul's theory of the proliferating sacred, the adequacy of the available literature that examines secularization in contemporary society will be evaluated. On the basis of this evaluation, proposals for reconsideration of the secularization thesis will be offered.

Furthermore, this thesis will locate renditions of the sacred in postmodern society through participation in traditional institutional religion and the proliferation of New Religious Movements by employing a substantive approach. By taking a functional approach, this thesis will analyze the religious dimensions of sports in contemporary American culture. It will become evident that whether one understands religion substantively or functionally, it is clear that the sacred in postmodernity appears to be thriving rather than eroding. This thesis will advocate a phenomenological functional understanding of religion and society and support the astute observation made by Graham Ward in his recent work Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory, that "Religion is once again haunting the imagination of the West."