Religion and “secular” social science : the neglected epistemological influences of Catholic discourses on sociology in Mexico
Zavala Pelayo, Edgar
Pelayo, Edgar Zavala
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Inspired by the Enlightenment’s principles of rationality, positivistic ideologies as well as the nascent modern-industrial state, sociology since its inception in Europe was conceived as a fundamentally secular enterprise. Whereas positivistic streams have been rather left aside, secularism in sociology still remains as a cornerstone of the discipline’s identity. However, is sociology in the 21st-century really ‘secular’? In this dissertation I present to the reader an empirical research about the epistemological influences of Catholicism upon sociology in Mexico, a constitutionally secular state since the 19th century. Theoretically, I draw from authors who have put forward the epistemological influences of Christianity upon western social science. I argue that these authors have unintentionally re-stated, with interesting additions, Durkheim’s rather neglected theses about the socio-religious origin of our ‘categories of thought’ –‘classification’ and ‘causality’ in particular. Although I will not attempt to trace the origins of sociological classifications and causalities back to Catholicism in Mexico, I will argue that it is possible to find salient similarities between both knowledge fields in terms of these categories and other discursive characteristics. By analysing these resemblances in a (neo)Durkheimian-Weberian frame, I will explain how Catholic discourses in Mexico, combined with the Mexican state’s teleological discourses on democracy, modernisation and progress, influence sociological discourses not through Durkheim’s ‘imitative rites’ and a priori ‘necessary connections’, but through a series of ‘bridge’ institutions and particular cultural-ideological structures. Individuals’ own religious beliefs and their deliberate and unintended interactions with these elements and their emergent properties turn apparently parochial Catholic discourses into a series of ‘discursive offensives’ which subtly yet pervasively shape common sense in society at large and also predispose sociology practitioners to adopt and develop i) ‘mono-causal’ and ‘power-over’ interpretations of social phenomena, ii) implicit and explicit dichotomistic logics as well as iii) normative-prescriptive sociological stances. In arguing this, I account for how Weberian authority models and Weberian-Mertonian religious values are not only key ‘background factors’, but also constitute actual cognitive devices in the production of sociological knowledge. I also offer empirical evidence about the role that individuals’ religious beliefs play in the conception of sociological models of power and causality and, by extension, in the construction of scientific reason or scientific beliefs. These accounts support the view of contemporary religions as plastic discourses whose ideological powers permeate, under certain historical conditions, the knowledge produced in scientific domains whose secularity has been mistakenly taken for granted. And this, I conclude, strongly suggests the need to revise the secularist foundations of sociologies of science and scientific knowledge, of sociology in general as well as current monolithic theories and paradigms of secularism and science-religion dualistic debates.