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In studies of religion, modern democracies are generally recognized as secular. This is due to the near-complete freedom of religion (beliefs on religion generally are not subject to legal or social sanctions), and the lack of authority of religious leaders over political decisions. Nevertheless, it has been claimed that surveys done by Pew Research Center show Americans as generally being more comfortable with religion playing a major role in public life, while in Europe the impact of the church on public life is declining.

Modern sociology has, since Max Weber, often been preoccupied with the problem of authority in secularized societies and with secularization as a sociological or historical process. Twentieth-century scholars, whose work has contributed to the understanding of these matters, include Carl L. Becker, Karl Löwith, Hans Blumenberg, M.H. Abrams, Peter L. Berger, Paul Bénichou and D.L. Munby, among others.

Some societies become increasingly secular as the result of social processes, rather than through the actions of a dedicated secular movement; this process is known as secularization.

Sociologist Peter L. Berger maintained that the modern world can no longer be described as being secular or becoming increasingly secular, instead it can best be described as being pluralistic.

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