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Secular Conversions
Political Institutions and Religious Education in the United States and Australia, 1800–2000

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Part of Cambridge Studies in Social Theory, Religion and Politics

  • Date Published: August 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107503236

$ 28.99 (P)

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About the Authors
  • Why does secularization proceed differently in otherwise similar countries? Secular Conversions demonstrates that the institutional structure of the state is a key factor shaping the course of secularization. Drawing upon detailed historical analysis of religious education policy in the United States and Australia, Damon Mayrl details how administrative structures, legal procedures, and electoral systems have shaped political opportunities and even helped create constituencies for secular policies. In so doing, he also shows how a decentralized, readily accessible American state acts as an engine for religious conflict, encouraging religious differences to spill into law and politics at every turn. This book provides a vivid picture of how political conflicts interacted with the state over the long span of American and Australian history to shape religion's role in public life. Ultimately, it reveals that taken-for-granted political structures have powerfully shaped the fate of religion in modern societies.

    • Proposes a new approach to the study of secularization, providing new insights into processes of religious change that help explain religion's role in public life at different points in time
    • Uses a strong comparative design using underutilized US-Australia comparison, allowing readers to see how two similar countries developed different policies over time
    • Focuses on the role of the state and political institutions, revealing how the structure of American government contributes to religious conflict and religious policy change
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    • Winner, 2017 Distinguished Book Award, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR)

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Secular Conversions leaps beyond overly general secularization debates to demonstrate how specific institutional conditions and political processes have shaped quite different accommodations of religion and education in two modern nation-states. This tour de force of comparative sociological history should inspire new ways of engaging one of the central contradictions of modernity - allowing for free institutions and practices of religion while maintaining the independence and secularity of public institutions.' John R. Hall, University of California, Davis

    'Questions about religion and education are at the forefront of scholarly and policy debates in many western democracies. Damon Mayrl carefully outlines the historical contours of new secular settlements arrived at during the 1960s regarding the role of religion in education in Australia and the United States. Mayrl’s analysis makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the place of religion in these so-called secular societies. Importantly, he illuminates the complexity of each context by bringing the two countries into the same analytical orbit. The insights offered in this book are applicable beyond the two example countries, and provide a model for future scholarly work on this topic.' Lori G. Beaman, Canada Research Chair in Religious Diversity and Social Change, University of Ottawa, Ontario

    ‘Mayrl’s study will undoubtedly set the agenda for debates in this topic area for some time - certainly within secularisation studies, but also in histories of religious education. The book also provides an ideal model of how the methods and analytical logic of historical sociology can usefully move debates in educational studies forward. One can hope that more and more of this line of research can begin to inform not only our research, but perhaps educational policy itself.’ Eric Royal Lybeck, History of Education

    'Secular Conversions is an important addition to the histories of American (and Australian) education respectively because of its brilliant synthesis of multiple political institutional histories in each country in educational professionalism, in law, and in the structures of politics.' Benjamin Justice, Journal of Church and State

    'To compare the various orthogonal intersections and ensuing interstices whereby myriad influences have shaped the trajectory and expression of secularization within two democratic nations constitutes a monumental task. However, with an eye toward religious education in the public domain, this is exactly what Damon Mayrl accomplishes in his very important book, Secular Conversions: Political Institutions and Religious Education in the United States and Australia, 1800–2000.' Jason Singh, American Journal of Sociology

    'Even if you’re not a sociologist of religion, Secular Conversions is still worth your time. … It’s rich in insight and packed with interesting historical examples. Sociologists and students of education, politics, institutions, law, and culture will all find something useful here.' Michael Evans, Contemporary Sociology

    'This is an extremely important, thoughtful and perceptive analysis that I suspect will be widely discussed.' Karen Barkey, European Journal of Sociology

    ‘… a significant contribution to the study of comparative state-religion relations. Its robust theoretical foundation makes the book relevant for researchers and graduate courses. Mayrl’s engaging empirical content and accessible style make it appropriate for the policy community and undergraduate students as well.’ Ramazan Kılınç, Sociology of Religion

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2016
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107503236
    • length: 298 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.43kg
    • contains: 3 b/w illus. 3 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of figures and tables
    List of acronyms
    1. Politics, institutions, and secularization
    Part I. Forging the Nineteenth-Century Settlement, 1800–80:
    2. State-building and secularization in comparative perspective
    Part II. The Nineteenth-Century Settlement in Transition, 1880–1945: Preface to Part II
    3. Slow secularization in the permeable American state
    4. Settlement stability in the insulated Australian state
    Part III. Forging the Twentieth-Century Settlement, 1945–2000: Preface to Part III
    5. Secularization and the courts in postwar America
    6. Desecularization and electoral institutions in postwar Australia
    Part IV. Implications:
    7. Conclusion
    Epilogue. Toward a twenty-first century settlement?

  • Author

    Damon Mayrl, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid


    • Winner, 2017 Distinguished Book Award, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR)

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