Explanations of Secularisation

HideShow resource information



  • Rational ways of thinking and acting replace religious ones.
  • Protestant Reformation begun by Martin Luther (16thC) started process of rationalisation.
  • Undermined religious world view of the Middle Ages and replaced it with scientific outlook.
  • Medieval Catholic worldview saw world as an enchanted garden controlled by spiritual beings.
  • Humans could try to influence these beings through prayers and spells.


  • Protestantism saw God as transcendent rather than immanent.
  • Events explained as workings of natural forces rather than supernatural.
  • Allowed science to thrive.

Technological Worldview

  • Bruce - technological worldview has replaced religious explanations for tragedies etc.
  • This worldview encourages people to take religion less seriously.
1 of 6

Structural Differentation


  • Structural differentiation is the process of specialisation in industrial development.
  • Specialised institutions now carry out functions previously performed but a single institution.
  • Industrialisation led to religion being replace by smaller more specialised institutions.
  • Structural differentiation leads to disengagement of religion.
    • Funtions are transfered to other institutions.
    • Religion becomes disconnected from wider society.


  • Religion has become more privatised.
  • Now confined to private sphere of home and family.
  • Religion has become more of a personal choice .
  • Religious institutions have lost influence on society.
  • Tradition symbols and rituals have lost meaning.
  • Even where religion continues to perform functions it must conform to state regulations.
    • e.g. Education, Social welfare.
2 of 6

Social and Cultural Diversity


  • Pre-industrial communities shared values through collective ritual.
  • Now religion has lost basis in stable local communities and thus its hold over individuals.


  • Industrialisation undermines consensus of religious belief.
  • Small close-knit rural communities give way to large loose-knit urban ones with diverse values.
  • Social and geographical mobility breaks apart communities and creates more diversity.
  • Diversity of culture and lifestyles undermines plausibility of religious beliefs.
    • Plausibility relies on the practicing community of believers.


  • Relgion can be a source of identity on a worldwide scale.
  • Some religious communities are imagined though global media.
  • Pentecostal and other groups often flourish in impersonal urban areas.
3 of 6

Religious Diversity


  • Trend towards religious diversity has caused secularisation.
  • In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church held absolute monopoly.
    • Everyone lived under a single sacred canopy.
    • No challengers gave beliefs more plausibility.
  • Since Protestant Reformation variety of religious organisations has continued to grow.
    • Each organisation has a different version of the truth.
    • No church can now claim an unchallenged monopoly of truth.
    • Society is no longer unified under single belief system.
    • Plurality means people's interpretation of the truth varies.
  • This creates a crisis of credibility,.
  • Diversity undermines religion's plausibility structure.
  • With choice people are likely to question all religions.
  • Belief becomes relative rather than absolute.
  • Creates the possibility of opting out of religion all together.
4 of 6

Cultural Defence and Transition


  • Two counter trends appear to go against secularisation theory.
  • Cultural defence - religion provides a focal point for defense of national or ethnic identity.
    • e.g. Catholocism in Poland
  • Cultural transition - religion provides support and a sense of community for ethnic groups.
    • e.g. Irish, African Caribbean, Muslim migrants to the UK.
  • This does not disprove secularisation but shows that religion only survives where it performs functions for groups.


  • Berger - changed his view and argues diversity and choice can stimulate interest in religion.
    • e.g. Growth of Evangelicalism in Latin America.
  • Beckford - opposing vies can strengthen a group's committment rather than undermining.
5 of 6

Spirtual Revolution

  • Traditional Christianity is giving way to holistic spirituality.
  • Interest in spiritual market is evident through number of self-help and spirituality books sold.


Kendal Project

  • Distinguished between congregational domain and holistic milieu.
  • Found 7.9% attended church and 1.6% took part in holistic milieu.
  • In congregation domain traditional churches lost support while Evangelical thrived.
  • Fewer involved in holistic milieu but it was growing.
  • New Age appeals to subjective turn in today's culture away from obeying external authority.
  • Traditional religions that demand obedience are declining.
  • Evangelical churches are more successful as they emphasise the importance of spiritual healing through being born again.
  • In the spiritual market place those who appeal to personal experience thrive.
  • Although holisitc milieu has grown it has not compensated for decline of religion.
  • Therefore secularisation is occurring rather than a spiritual revolution.
6 of 6


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Religion and beliefs resources »