While the meaning of secularization has developed significantly over the last two millennia – see the four-fold accretion of meaning to the concept in the previous post (Secularization Thesis 2) – a historical era and two towering figures played an influential role in the development of the secularization thesis. First and foremost, intellectuals of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment project believed in the supreme power of reason. Through his intelligence alone, they believed, man could discern the laws governing the world and discover the truth about the nature of reality; man could now control nature and its destiny. The Enlightenment thus set the stage for a widespread submission to the idea that science and reason, instead of religion and divine revelation, provided solutions to the problems of life and offered the only valid paradigm for the search for truth through the scientific method. It was in this milieu that two other figures, often considered the founding fathers of the sociology of religion, developed their contrasting ideas that would prove foundational to the development of a secularization theory.
German sociologist and political economist Max Weber (1864-1920) believed that Western society, through rationalization and the subsequent rise of capitalism and the nation state, was moving away from traditional ways of life towards a more centrally controlled and bureaucratized way of life. He believed urbanization and industrialization would inevitably and negatively impact religion. In contrast to the enchanted traditional ways of life, such changes would lead to “disenchantment” and a world in which religion no longer had any role in public life. Religion would become a private matter and could no longer remain an unquestionable source of authority. Furthermore, he argued that Protestantism carried within itself the seeds of secularization, essentially for two reasons. First, it promoted rationalization which led to disenchantment, and second, it encouraged scientific reflection upon the natural laws of divine creation as a way of knowing God which undermined religious explanations. And yet, unlike many of his contemporaries, Weber did not view this decline of religious influence as a positive, liberating fruit of modernity; it would merely be the inevitable consequence of the scientific rationalism of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.
Unlike Weber, Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) had a far more positive prognosis for the future of religion, despite the fact that he was an atheist. According to Durkheim, religion would always remain essential to all societies, traditional or modern, not because it is true but rather because it serves a public function by providing a sense of social solidarity. While he acknowledged that religion seemed to be in decline during his lifetime, he refused to believe that it would die, not even at the hands of the reigning power of reason and science. Instead, religion would inevitably revive and manifest itself in new forms that were reflective of the changing society. In his words
there is something eternal in religion that is destined to outlive the succession of particular symbols in which religious thought has clothed itself. In short, the former gods are growing old or dying, and others have not been born . . . A day will come when our societies once again will know hours of creative effervescence during which new ideals will again spring forth and new formulas emerge to guide humanity.
While the influence of the Enlightenment emphasis on science and reason obviously plays a central role in the notion of secularization as an inevitable demolishing of religion, the views of Weber and Durkheim have come to play a key role in the emerging debates over the secularization thesis. Sociologist of religion Judith Fox notes in her article on secularization that contemporary theories depend upon both Weber and Durkheim in at least two ways. First, like Weber and Durkheim, they present “large-scale explanatory models” based on observable trends. And second, the assumption that social conditions impact religion found in Weber and Durkheim is consistently present in contemporary arguments. Fox concludes by observing that some theorists, like Bryan Wilson and Roy Wallis “are explicitly Weberian in orientation” while “[o]thers such as Rodney Stark, Grace Davie and Charles Taylor, exhibit elements of Durkheimian thought in their challenges to the views of the former.” It is the explicit secularization theories of figures such as these, and others, that will be the focus of the remaining posts on this topic.
 See Judith Fox, “Secularization” in The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, 2nd ed., edited by John R. Hinnells (London and New York: Routledge, 2010), 308-309.
 Following Mary B. Cunningham and Elizabeth Theokritoff in their introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), xviii, this thesis will use the word man in an inclusive sense: “In the matter of ‘inclusive language’, we should clarify that many Orthodox authors, writing in English, are accustomed to using ‘man’ in an inclusive sense: this is equivalent to the Greek word ‘anthropos’, a word which, depending on its gender, may refer to human beings of both sexes. There are contexts in which one can just as well speak of humans singly (‘the human person’), or as a plurality (‘humans’) or as a collective (‘humanity’). But none of the circumlocutions for ‘man’ fully conveys that sense, so important to Orthodox anthropology, of humankind personified as one unified creature – the one who falls in Adam, says ‘yes’ to God in the Virgin Mary and is raised from the dead in Christ.”
 For a masterful examination of the impact of the Enlightenment on theology, particularly the way in which the overwhelming success of the sciences has distorted our willingness to accept other means of apprehending the truth, cf. Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Wichita, KS: Eighth Day Press, 2007).
 Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, tr. Karen Fields (New York: Free Press, 1995), 429.
 Fox 2010, 309.