Beliefs in society: Evidence against secularisation


Church membership, attendance & participation

1. Church membership, attendance and participation 

There has been a large increase in Muslim and Sikh communities in Britain. There has been a small rise in Hinduism. Non-Trinitarian religions, such as Jehovah Witnesses and Christadelphians have seen an overall increase in membership in Britain and the USA. There has been an increase in membership of NRM’s and NAM’s. Many people still claim to have a belief in God.

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 2. Resacrilisation

Durkheim did believe that industrialisation would lead to secularisation. However, he also believed that every society needed a sacred element. The increase in NRM’s and NAM’s could be evidence of resacrilisation (a resurgence of the sacred in society).  Lyon argues that we are ow in a period of re-enchantment with an increased demand for unconventional beliefs and spirituality.

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Role of NRMs

3. Role of NRM’s

Stark and Bainbridge(1985) argue that all of the world’s major religions started out as sects. As such NRM’s could be taken as evidence for the continuing importance of religion.

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Increase in private worship

 4. Increase in private worship

Bellah(1976) argued that the decline in church attendance is not evidence of a decline in religiosity. There has simply been an increase in private worship. For example,Davie’s(1994) idea of “believing without belonging”. There has been a huge increase in religious television channels worldwide. On Sky TV alone there are 15 Christian channels transmitting 24 hours a day. There are also several Christian radio stations such as UCB UK. There are also non-Christian radio stations.

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Postmodernism 1

5. Post Modernism

Postmodernists argue that society has progressed through three stages:

  • Pre modernity, pre industrial societies.
  • Modernity, a stage in the development of society characterised by a belief in science, industrialisation and a complex division of labour.
  • Post modernity, a new period following modernity distinguished by increased choice and diversity because of globalisation.
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Postmodernism 2

Bauman(1992) emphasises the freedom of choice of postmodern societies leading to an increase in NRM’s and NAM’s.  However, the other response links to the lack of rules in postmodern society.  This causes some individuals to turn to religion for moral guidance.

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Spiritual shoppers

6. Spiritual shoppers

Religion in postmodern society is characterised by diversity and choice. We can now “shop around” for a religious belief that suits us.Lyon(2000) argues that we have become “spiritual shoppers”. Bunting discusses a ‘DIY cocktail’ where people choose beliefs that suit them.

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The weakness of the new age


Many theorists have argued that religion is not declining, but simply changing.  However, Bruce argues that New Age forms of religion that are springing up need to do so on a bigger scale if they are to fill the void that the decline in traditional religion has left.  There I also the problem of socialising the next generation.  Research suggests that many children of New Age followers don’t share their parents’ enthusiasm.  In addition, women in the holistic milieu are more likely to be childless, and are less likely to have a partner who shares their beliefs; this reduces the likelihood of children being raised in this way.

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Religion as a compensator

Religious Market Theory

Religion as a compensator                                                           Stark and Bainbridge also argue that religion continues to attract because it offers compensation.  For example, while immortality is unobtainable, religion compensates by offering life after death; for this reason, it will always be attractive to people.

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The cycle of renewal

Religious Market Theory

The cycle of renewal                                                                         An alternative to secularisation argues that there is a cycle of renewal that sees traditional religions decline, but alterative belief systems grow.  When churches decline they leave a gap in the market.  This causes competition between different belief systems and leads to improvement in the quality of religious ‘goods’ on offer.

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America VS Europe

Religious Market Theory

America VS. Europe                                                                       Stark and Bainbridge argue that there is a constant demand for religion, but that whether people choose to participate in religious organisations will depend on the quality, the quantity and the attractiveness of the products. Those organisations that grow appeal to a wide range of spiritual tastes and beliefs; people are consuming religion and weighing the costs against the benefits. Religious pluralism allows people to do this.  In countries such as the USA there is a wide range of choices available and accepted, but in Europe the only real religion associated with both sovereign and state is Christianity; this lessens the choice available and dampens enthusiasm for religion.

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Secularisation and security

Secularisation and Security

Norris and Inglehart reject religious market theory and claim that religion remains strong in countries that face a range of threats: poverty, disease, and risk of war.  They also claim that this explains why some of the most prosperous societies in the world (Sweden, Denmark, Britain) are the most secular.  They do, however, argue that poor people in rich societies have higher levels of insecurity and are therefore more religious.  

They also point to the different levels of religiosity in Europe and America being caused by inequalities; America is arguable the most unequal of the rich societies with an inadequate welfare state.  This creates high levels of poverty and insecurity, which creates a greater need for religion.  This is supported by Gill who argues that the more a country spends on welfare, the lower the levels of religious participation.  Traditionally, religion has provided welfare for the poor, and still does so in poorer countries.

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Secularisation – conclusions

  • The theory of secularisation has not been definitely proven or disproven. How convincing the theory is depends upon how you define secularisation.  Traditional religious participation and beliefs may be in decline, but new types of spirituality might increase.  In Western Europe, religious participation, belief and the influence of religion has all seemed to decline.  However in most other parts of the world, including the USA, the Muslim world, Latin America and Africa, religion may actually be getting stronger.
  • Martin (1969) has actually suggested the removal of the term secularisation from the sociological vocabulary. Instead, he supports a careful and detailed study of the ways in which the role of religion has changed at different times and in different places.
  • Glock and Stark (1969) argue that is too simplistic to either support or reject secularisation, instead the concept needs to be broken down and related to specific places.
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