Secularization and Snowmen

The high point of the week for my children was the opportunity to build two snowmen and – this year’s innovation – a snow dog. A low point was the moment when they realised that those same snowmen (and dog) had begun to melt, the  first signs of terminal decline coming when the coal eyes and nose fell out.

Inside the house it was easy to miss that crucial moment. From a distance, eyes and nose still seemed to be there, the cavities being smudged black with coal. A closer inspection revealed the sad truth. And worse is still to come: as I type, with the temperature rising, limbs are starting to sag and heads, no doubt, will soon begin to roll.

There are two reasons why, sadly, I won’t be able to use this image of secularization in my PhD (on secularization and contemporary fiction). The first is that neither snowmen nor snowdogs are standard features of doctoral theses. The second is that the image doesn’t wholly work because it is grounded in an assumption of inevitability. Snowmen are built and snowmen melt. There is no other way. However, the secularization thesis no longer holds sway in the academy because secularization is clearly neither inevitable nor unstoppable. If anything is melting, it is the secularization thesis itself.