religion, renewal and choice

  • Created by: hwelch17
  • Created on: 28-10-18 11:04


in this chapter, need to know 2 alternatives to secularisation theory:

  • Theories of late modernity and postmodernity - argue religion is changing, not declining. 
  • religious market theory - secularisation is only one stage of a constant cycle of secularisation, revival and renewal. 
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New forms of religion -1

sociologists reject the ST that R is undergoing an inevitable decline in modern Western society. Instead, new forms are emerging as a result of changes in wider society e.g. greater consumerism and choice. 

From obligation to comsumption  - Davie argues in today's late modern society, religon is changing away from obligation and towards consumption/choice. Religion is no longer inheritred or imposed, instead a personal choice. 

Believing without belonging  - Davie argues R is simply taking a different, more privatised form. People are reluctant to belong to an organisation. Despite this people still hold R beliefs - Davie calls this believing without belonging. 

Vicarious religion: the Spiritual Health Service - Davie notes a trend towards 'vicarious R' = religion practised by a active minority  on the behalf of a greater majority, who experienece R secondhand. She argues in Europe, major national churches are seen as public utilities, or a sort of 'Spiritual Health Service', like the NHS is there for everyone when needed. Davie compares vicarious R to the tip of an iceberg and sees it as evidence of believing without belonging. Beneath the surface of what appears to be only a small commitment (the few who attend) lies a much wider commitment. Most people do not attend church but remain attached to the church as an institution provides support  when needed. Davie argues ST assumes modernisation affects every society in the same way, causing the decline of R. Davie questions this - instead of a single version of society, there are multiple modernities, e.g. UK and USA are both modern societies but have very different patterns of R.

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New forms of religion -2

Neither believing nor belonging - Voas and Crockett do not accept Davie's claim that there is more believing than belonging. Evidence shows both church attendance and belief in God are declining. if Davie was right, should see higher levels of belief. 

Bruce adds that if people are not willing to invest time to attending church, this just reflects the declining strength of their beliefs. When people no longer believe, they no longer belong, so church involvement diminishes. 

Consensus results show that 72% of people identified as Christian, which supports the 'believing without belonging' view. However, Day found very few Christians that she interviewed mentioned God. Their reason for identifying as Christian was not religious, simply a way of saying they belonged to a 'White English' ethnic group. Day says they 'believe in belonging'

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New forms of religion -3

Spiritual Shopping 

Hervieu-Leger - agress theres been a decline in institutional R in Europe, with declining church attendance. 

This is partly because of cultural amnesia - the loss of a collective memory of what religious traditions and beliefs used to be like. Children no longer have religions handed down to them from the older generation - because fewer parents teach their children about religion. Nowadays, children can decide for themselves what they want to believe. They have become ‘spiritual shoppers’.Children have no fixed, religious identity. But that does not mean that religion has disappeared entirely - it has simply changes its form - it’s a more DIY belief. Religion has become a personal, spiritual journey where we choose the elements we want to explore and the groups we wish to join. 

As a result, she argues, two new religious types are emerging:

1.Pilgrims - Follow their own individual path to ‘self discovery’ e.g. exploring New Age spirituality (we will come to this later)

2.Converts - join religious groups that offer a strong sense of belonging e.g. Evangelical movements, ethnic minority churches.

As a result, R no longer acts as the source of collective identity that it once did. However she does note R continues to have some influence on society's values. E.g. the values of equality have their roots in R. Her views can be related to the idea of late modernity = notion that in recent decades some of the trends within modern society  have begun to accelerate, such as the decline of tradition and increasing individualism. This explains the weakening of traditional institutions e.g. church, as well as the growing importance of individual choice in matters of R. 

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New forms of religion -4

Postmodern Religion 

Lyon agress with Davie that believing eithout belonging is increasingly popular. He argues that traditional R is giving way to a variety of new R forms that demonstrate its continuing vigour. As a postmodernist, he explains this in terms of a shift in recent decades from modern to postmodern society. In his view, society has a number of features that are changing the nature of R, including glaobalisation, the meida and consumerism. 

Gloabisation, the media and religion

Globalisation = growing interconnectedness of societies, which has led to greatly increased movements of beliefs across national boundaries. This is due to the central role played in post-mod society by the media, which saturates us with worldwide messages, compressing time and space to give. R's ideas have become 'disembedded' - the media lift them out of physical churches and move them to a differnet place and time. example - the 'electronic church'  and televangelism diembed R from real churches and move it to the internet. In the USA there are 1,064 religious radio stations and 25 religious television stations, and the number continues to grow at about one per week. Religion has become ‘de-institutionalised’ - removed from its original location/institution and is ‘floating in cyberspace.’

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New forms of religion -5

online religion and religion online 

Helland distinguishes between 2 kinds of internet activity: 

Religion online: Refers to the majority of religious websites, which seemed to provide only religious information and no interaction - used to address potential converts.

Online religion: Religious websites where people could act with unrestricted freedom and a high level of interactivity e.g. virtual worship and meditation spaces.

Postmodernists support the view that online religion is a radical new alternative that may be replacing religion in order to suit individualistic needs.


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New forms of religion -6

Religious consumerism 

Postmodernists believe that the role of religion is to suit the needs of the individual, rather than society as whole. Postmodern society also includes the growth of consumerism - we construct our religions through what we choose to consume. - Links to Hervieu-Leger - spiritual shoppers. 

‘Jesus in Disneyland’ - Contemporary disciples of Jesus have used Disneyland for religious events, whilst Disney characters are now probably better known throughout the world than many biblical figures! But Lyon argues that religion is NOT declining, but changing its form. Lyon argues that in postmodern society people want to customize their beliefs and has become like any other product people want to consume. Disneyization blends religion with consumerism and pop culture to increase its appeal to customers.It does this by trivializing itself and placing an emphasis on fun, like the Disneyland theme park. In the West, many religious institutions have declined in social significance. However, what Lyon calls ‘the religious realm’ (including faith and spirituality) is flourishing in diverse forms. 

One effect of religious consumerism - the loss of metanarratives: theories or worldviews that claim to have absolute, authoritative truth (such as traditional religions)

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New forms of religion -7

Self religions and the New Age - new forms of R that Lyon refers to are New Age beliefs and practices. NAS rejects the idea of obedience to external authority and instead emphaises that life is a journey of self discovery. 

Re-enchantment of the world - Lyon - the decline of traditional churches does NOT spell the end for religion - religion is simply evolving and taking on new forms. Contrary to Weber’s views, Lyon argues that society is now entering a period of re-enchantment - the growth of unconventional beliefs, practices and spirituality.

A spiritual revloution -  some argue that a 'spiritual revolution' is taking place today, in which Christianity is giving way to 'holistic spirituality' or NAS emphasise perosnal development. Increased interest in spirituality can be seen in the growth of a 'spiritual market', with an explosion in the number if books about self-help, practitioners who offer consultation, courses and 'therapies'. 

KENDAL STUDY (HEELAS AND WOODHEAD, 2005) - The aim of the study was to map patterns of religion and spirituality in Kendal (treating it as a ‘spiritual laboratory’) and exploring questions such as how different forms of Christianity are faring, the relative importance of alternative forms of spirituality, and the meanings and significance of religion and spirituality in people’s lives.

Methods: Telephone interviews, questionnaires, participant observations. 

Results:Traditional churches (congregational domains e.g. Catholic) were losing support, whereas Evangelical churches were ‘holding their own’. Holistic milieu (environments) are slowly increasing (spirituality or New Age)

Explanations: “Religion that tells you what to believe and how to behave is out of tune with a culture which believes it is up to us to seek answers for ourselves”. (Heelas and Woodhead)

Churches are declining because they demand obedience and duty, whereas people want to explore their own paths.

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New forms of religion -7

The weakness of the New Age 

critics challenege the claim that R is not declining but rather changing form. Bruce argues:

  • New Age belief needs to be occuring on a much larger scale to have any impact to fill the gap left by traditional religions. (give stats to support this claim from the Kendal study)
  • The next generation needs to be socialised for a belief system to survive...however, what did the Kendal project find?
  • Lack of commitment - people dabble, but have little importance on their lives.


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religious market theory

  • Also callled rational choice theory 
  • Stark and Bainbridge - see secularisation theory as Eurocentric - focuses on the decline in Europe.
  • S+B propose RMT which is base on 2 assumptions:
  • 1. People are naturally religious and R meets human needs-  therefore the demand for R remains constant
  • 2.It is human nature to seek rewards and avoid costs – when people make decisions they weigh up the costs and benefits


R is attractive because it provides us for compensators. When real rewards are unobtainable, R compensates by promising supernatural ones. Only R can provide such compensators (supernatural). 

  • The cycle of renewal: as alternative to secularisation, which sees R as a one-way process of continous decline, S+B put forward the idea of a cycle of R decline, revival and renewal. 
  • Religious competition: S+B argue churches operate like companies selling goods. ST sees competition between R's organisations as undermining R, RMT argue it leads to improvements in the quality of the R 'goods' on offer. They make their product attractive and will gain more customers whilst unresponsive churches will see a decline. 
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religious market theory 2

America  vs. Europe 

The demand for R increases when there are different types to choose from, because consumers will find one that meets their needs. By contrast, where there is a R monopoly - one church wth no competition, it leads to a decline, because they have no incentive to provide people with whatever they want.  

S+B believe R thrives in the USA because there's never been a R monopoly, Constitution gurantees freedom of R and seperation of church and state - encouraged growth of a healthy religious market where R's grow or decline according to consumer demand. 

Europe - most countries have been dominated by an official state church which had a R monopoly e.g. church of England. Competition has been held back and lack of choice has led to a decline. 

  • Supply not demand: S+B conclude the main factor influencing the level of R participation is not the demand for R, as secularisation theory suggests, but the supply. participation increases when there is an ample supply of R groups to choose from, but declines when restricted. They also argue that the decline is not a universal trend happening in all societies, as some versions of ST suggest. 
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religious market theory 3

Supply-led religion 

studies that support S+B view that demand for R is greatly influenced by the quality and variety of R on offer and the extent to which it responds to peoples's needs. 

Example - Hadden and Shaupe - growth of televangelism shows that the level of R participation is supply-led. 

Finke - the lifting of restrictions on Asian immigration into America allowed Asian R's to set up permanently in the US and became another option. 


  • Bruce - rejects the view that diversity and competition increase the demand fir R. stats show that diversity has been accompained by R's decline in both Europe and USA. 
  • Bruce argues S+B's misrepresent secularisation theory. It doesn't claim there was a past 'golden age' or that everyone will become athiests. It simply claims that R is in a long term decline. 
  • Norris and Inglehart - show that high levels of R participation exist in Catholic countries where the church has a near monopoly e.g. Ireland. By contrast, countries with R pluralism, e.g. Holland, have low levels of participation. This contradicts S+B's theory. 
  • Beckford criticises RMT as unsociological , because it assumes people are 'naturally' R and fails to explain why they make the choices they do. 
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An alternative view: secularisation and security

Norris and Inglehart reject RMT as it only applies to USA and fails to explain variations in religiosity between different  societies. 

Existential security theory -  N+I argue that the reasons for variations in religiosity between society is not different degrees of religious choice, but different degrees of existential security = 'the feeling that survival is secure enough that it can be taken for granted'.  R meets a need for security and therefore societies where people already feel secure have a low level demand for R. 

  • poor societies - people face life-threatening risks e.g. famine, so have high levels of insecurity and thus high levels of religiosity. 
  • Rich societies - people have a high standard of living and are at less risk, greater sense of security and thus lower levels fo religiosity. 

meaning the demand for R is not constant, as S+B claim, but varies both within and between societies. Demand is greatest from low-income groups as they are less secure, explaining why poor developing countries are more religious, while Western countries are more secular. However N+I notes goobal population growth undermines the trend towards secularisation. 

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An alternative view: secularisation and security

Europe vs. America 

In Western Europe, the trend towards increasing secularisation. N+I argue it's not suprising because these countries are the most equal and secure, with well developed welfare states offering comprehensive health care, pensions and social services. This reduces poverty and protects those at the bottom from insecurity. 

USA - remains religious because they are the most unequal of the rich societies, with a poor welfare system, creating high levels of insecurity and poverty, and a need for R. 


Vasquez accepts N+I offer a valuable explanation of different levels of R participation not only in the UK and USA, but globally, he makes 2 criticisms:

  • dont use quantative data about income levels; don't examine own meanings of 'existential security'
  • N+I only see R as a negative response to deprivation. They ignore positive reaosns people have for R participation and the appeal that some stypes of R have for the wealthy. 
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