Charles Turner offers us what he calls a “walking tour” around the topic of secularization. Beginning in Istanbul with the puzzle of a burqa‐wearing reader of Baudelaire, Turner is neither a knight on a quest for a thesis nor a negligible intellectual flaneur; he is in fact a British sociologist, intellectual historian, and political theorist who is fluent in German, Polish and Turkish. His book is, on one level, a compact but advanced introduction to the intellectual history, social science, and philosophy of secularization. This rather modest guise in fact allows Turner to perform a double service. Those of us somewhat new to the area certainly get an overview and a form of pedagogical guidance. Many of the residents are met briefly but without the caricature which can blight so many books where major theorists merely pass in review. See the excellent section on Hans Blumenberg, science, and mythology (76–80). This is very rewarding for hardworking newcomers. However, a second and perhaps higher purpose emerges in the enormous terrain Turner manages to encompass so tightly.

After the short Preface in Istanbul, Chapter 1, “The career of a concept”, describes the meaning of the terms “secularization” and “religion” in so far as they have varied according to the contexts of their usages, before and after the rise of science. Turner's concern at the beginning of the book is to emphasize the challenge we face in dealing with such a slippery concept. He then moves on to consider three kinds of writer on secularization: classical social theorists, modern sociologists and post‐war philosophers. Chapter 2, “Secularization and ambivalence”, turns to Tocqueville, Marx, Max Weber, Durkheim, and Simmel—founding fathers of the social sciences—as exemplars for thinking with a sense of “paradox and nuance” about the topic. Chapter 3, “Four sociological secularization gospels”, contrasts the classical theorists with four sociologically assertive treatments of “the secularization thesis” from the 1960s by Bryan Wilson, Peter Berger, Phillip Rieff, and Alasdair MacIntyre. Chapter 4, “Secularization and philosophy” follows a range of European philosophers, especially Karl Löwith, Eric Voeglin, Carl Schmitt, Hans Kelsen, Hans Blumenberg, and René Girard in their negotiations between religion, science, and society in the years following World War Two.

We are then brought up to date in Turner's discussions of the critical and explanatory factors in recent work on the secularization debate and well‐chosen case‐studies and examples. Chapter 5, “The revenge of history and sociology”, discusses a range of dimensions of secularization that preoccupy more recent discussion; these include the role of “grand narratives”, the explanatory power of gender, sexuality, urbanization, and war, the nature of religious pluralism, and attempts to discuss examples of secularization that are wary of sociological and philosophical generalizations. Chapter 6, “Fundamentalism, zombie religion, secular religion”, discusses Islam in Turkey and France and then, via islamophobia, the possibility that avowedly non‐theological, “scientific” principles of social organization—laïcité in France after the Enlightenment, “Scientific Communism”, and allegedly Darwinian Nazism—might in fact represent new religious forces. “An inconclusive conclusion” which forms Chapter 7 sees Turner endi the book by recommending a spirit of intellectual compromise—between religion and science, between the secular and the sacred. If we avoid certain dangers, he says, we might avoid the ideological “absolutism” (155) that has caused so many problems in the past.

That the book should be “inconclusive” in no way means it is without force. For example, the first chapter tells us what the classical social theorists thought about religion or its alleged decline. But the studied “ambivalence” Turner finds in these writers does away with the simplistic idea that secularization just is the destruction of religion by science (because science is necessarily in conflict with religion). This ambivalence comes from Turner's cleverness as an intellectual historian. He operates, I suggest, with two complementary modes of commentary.

Consider how Turner approaches Max Weber. There is the “official” Weber, who appears to have accepted the simplistic version of the secularization idea (32). But then there is the Weber for whom the historical processes of secularization, scientific rationalization, and “disenchantment” require we cling to “the demon that holds the very fibres of your life” (36) in a personal struggle for meaning. This changes how we see intellectual history and how we see secularization. Turner does not offer us, through Weber or anyone else, a solution to a “science versus religion” dilemma. Instead, he thinks that the very practice of intellectual history can give us the historical awareness we need to begin to transcend false dilemmas. Turner writes about thinkers who are, recognizably, people in the midst of their own struggles with ideas.

This personal mode of commentary undercuts the “absolutism” he warns against in his final chapter. Warning, indeed, is the other mode. “Absolutism” allows individuals to escape responsibility for their own thinking about the relationship between religion, science, and society because it seems to license the same kind of ideas to dominate every sector of our lives, and Turner warns that this is literally dangerous. Twentieth‐century militarism, the secular in uniform, he suggests, gives us the harshest of examples (164–5). But there are lighter notes when Turner warns wryly against the bombast of more recent writers who might not be in full control of what they are saying about “the spatializing gaze of the Bangkok flaneur” (Turner quoting Taylor, 94) or “this minimalist biopolitical modality” (Turner quoting Mellor & Schilling, 153). This sort of thing, Turner says, is “an occupational hazard of cultural studies” (94). A few unnerving encounters should not put us off exploring a rich city.