The idea that religion is one segment of a total dimension of human existence, or that it is a product of the human mind and the human condition, is an idea of recent times. This idea could be traced to the Enlightenment and the Social Sciences, two Western intellectual movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries respectively. Contemporary Muslim intellectuals attributed to Western imperialism and colonialism for the introduction of an idea of religion nurtured in Enlightenment thought and the Social Sciences into the Muslim understanding of religion. If we are to gauge to what extent this Muslim attribution is true it is then instrumental for us to understand the fate of religion in Western history.
Today, everyone is well acquainted with the word ‘religion.’ Mention the word ‘religion,’ and one would utter the name of one or more of the great religions of the world – Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism. Repeat the word for clarification, and one would point to a mosque, or a church, or a temple, or a priest, or a monk, or a nun. No one would point to a school and then say that it is a religious building; or to a schoolteacher and then say that the teacher is a religious person. Must learning be considered a religious act only if it means studying the Qur’an, or the Bible, or the Vedas? Must a person be called a religious person only if he or she puts on attire that is often associated with religion, but not if he or she wears a traditional costume or in the case of man, a modern-day coat and tie?
Muslim intellectuals of recent times have attributed to Western imperialism and colonialism for introducing into the Muslim mind a modern Western understanding of religion that is divisible into two halves, one sacred and the other profane.1 Such an understanding of religion is rejected as alien to the Muslim experience of Islam as religion. Its consequence is that, two kinds of Muslim personalities were produced, one religious and the other secular.2 The religious person would be identified with concerns for otherworldliness, and the secular person with this worldliness. The religious person is usually seen as anti-progress and anti-West, the secular person as a friend of progress and of the West.3
How much of our perception of religion today has been influenced by the dualism of the world into the religious and non-religious that is the outcome of this meaning in Western history cannot be judged precisely. Nevertheless, to understand what happened to religion in the course of Western history is pertinent to understanding what bearings it has on the fate of religion in civilizations other than the West.
Two periods in Western history are relevant in this regard. These are ‘The Enlightenment’4 and ‘The Social Sciences.’5 The Enlightenment is an eighteenth century intellectual movement that aspires to elevate reason as the benchmark of reality and truth. However, reason as understood here is not the reason of the medieval scholasticism nor is it the reason of Cartesian rationalism. Rather, it is the reason of scientific thinking that regards reality as discernable by a systematic method of inquiry called the empirical method, and truth as objective and universal. The Social Sciences, a nineteenth century intellectual movement, aims at the application of the scientific thinking in the study of social phenomena. Religion too is regarded as a social phenomenon. The distinguishing mark of the social sciences is that it ties reason in its scientific character to environmental, demographic, cultural, and historical factors to account for an object of investigation, and has no regard for any transcendental and supernatural factor.
Source : https://www.myjurnal.my/public/article-view.php?id=21877