Religion, Renewal and choice

Religion, Renewal and choice

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  • Created on: 14-01-10 17:36

Religion, Renewal and choice

postmodernity and R

  • some sociologists reject S thesis that R must inevitably decline in modern society
  • changes in R are largely the result of changes in wider society, such as greater individualism and consumerism, or even a shift fromo modern to late modern or post modern society

believing without belonging

  • Grace Davie argues against secularisation theory
  • in her view, R is not declining but cimply taking a different, more privatised form
  • although churchgoing has declined, this is simply because attendance is now a matter of personal choice rather than the obligation it used to be
  • as a result, we now have believing without belonging - where people hold religious beleifs but dont go to church
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vicarious R

  • Davie notes a trend towards vicarious R, where a small number of professional clergy practice R on behalf of a much larger number of people, who experience it at a second hand
  • this pattern is typical of Britain and Northern Europe.
  • in these societies, despite low levels of attendance, many people still use the church for rites of passage
  • a similar finding comes from Bibby's Canadian survey, which found that only 25% of Canadians attended church regularly. however, 80% said they had religious beleifs, although they seldom went to church, they continued to be interested in the supernatural.
  • Davie compares vicarious R to the tip of an iceberg and sees it as evidence of believing without belonging.
  • beneath what appears to be only a small commitment to R is a much wider commitment.
  • this can be seen when people are drawn to church at times of national tragedy, e.g. following the death of Princess Diana. the same is true for individuals and families when they face tragedy and loss
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  • according to Davie, S theory assumes that modernisation affects every society in the same way, causing the decline of R and its replacement by science.
  • instead of a single version of modern society, she argues there are multiple alternatives.
  • Davie rejects the view that R will simply be replaced by science. her view is that they will continue to coexist


  • Voas and Crockett do not accpet Davies claim that there is more beliving than belonging. evidence from British Social Attitudes surveys shows that both church attendande and belief in God are declining
  • Bruce adds that if people are not willing to invest time in going to church, this just reflects the declining strength of their beliefs. when people no longer believe, they no longer wish to belong, and so their involvement in R diminishes
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spiritual shopping

  • Lerger continues the theme of personal choice and believing without belonging. she agrees that there has been a dramatic decline in institutional R in Europe, with fewer people attending church in most counries
  • this is partly because of what she calls cultural amnesia, or a loss of collective memory. for centuries, children used to be taught R in the extended family and parich church. instead, parents today let children decide for themselves what to believe.
  • at the same time, the trend towards greater social equality has undermined the traditional power of the Church to impose R on people from above.
  • as a result, young people no longer inherit a fixed religious identity and they are ignorant of traditional R
  • however, while traditional institutional R has declined, R itself has not disappeared. instead, individual consumerism has replaced collective tradition. people today now feel they have a choice as consumers of R - they have become spiritual shoppers. R is no individualised
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  • R has just become a personal spritual journey in which we chose the elements we want to explore and the groups we wish to join. as a result, Lerger argues, two new religious types are emerging - pilgrims and converts
    • Pilgrims follow an individual path in search for self-discovery, the demand is created by todays emphasis on personal development
    • Conerts join religious groups that offer a strong sense of belonging, usually based on a shared ethnic background or religious doctrine. such groups re-create a sense of community in a society that has lost many of its religious traditions.
  • as a result of these trends, R no longer acts as the source of collective identity that it once did. however, Lerger notes that R does continue to have some influence on societys values. for example, the values of equality and human rights have their roots in R. such values can be a source of shared cultural identity and social solidarity
  • Lergers views can be related to the idea of late modernity. this is the 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 such as the church, as well as the growing importance of individual choice in matters of R
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Lyon 'jesus in Disneyland'

  • Lyon agrees with Davie that believing without belonging is increasingly popular.
  • he argues that traditional R is giving way to a variety of new religious forms that demonstrates its continuing vigour.
  • as a p-modernist, he explains this in terms of a shift in recent decades from modern to postmodern society.
  • in Lyons view p-modern society has a number of features that are changing the nature of R. these include globalisation, the increased importance of the media and communications, and the growth of consumerism

the relocation of R

  • G refers to the growing interconnectedness of societies, which has led to greatly increased movements of ideas and beliefs across national boundaries
  • this is due to the central role played in p-modern society by the media and IT, which saturate us with image and messages from around the globe, compressing time and space to give us instantaneous access to the ideas and beliefs of previously remote regions and Rs
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these have been disembedded - the media lift them out of their original local contexts and move them to a different place and time. e.g. the electronics church and televangelism dissembled R from real, local churches and relocate it on the Internet, allowing believers to express their faith without pshyically attending church

  • similarly, Lyon describes a Harvest Day Crusade held not in church, but in Disneyland, an example of how the boundaries between different areas of social like become blurred in p-modern society
  • as a result, R becomes industrialised -its signs and images become detached from their place in rleigious institutions, floating and multiplying on television and in cyber-space.
  • removed from their orignial location in the church, they become a cultural resource that individuals can adapt for their own purposes

religious consumerism

  • p-modern society also involves the growth of consumerism, and especially the idea that we now construct our identities through what we choose to consume
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  • as Lerger emphasises, this is also true of R, where we act as spiritual shoppers, choosing religious beliefs and practices to meet our individual needs, from the vast range available in the religious marketplace
  • we can now pick and mix elements of different faiths to suit our tastes and make them part of our identity
  • in Lyons view R has relocated to the sphere of consumption.
  • people have not abandoned R, instead they have become religious consumers, making conscious choices about which element of R they find useful
  • for example, Nancy Ammermans study made use of a number of churches without giving strong loyalty to any of them
  • one effect of having a great variety of rleigious products to choose from is a loss of faith in meta narratives - theories or worldviews that claim to have the absolute, authoritative truth.
  • these include the traditional Rs. now that people have access to a wide range of different and contradictory religious ideas and beliefs, this weakens the claims of traiditonal Rs, because exposure to too many versions of the truth make people skeptical that any one of them is really true.
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re-enchantment of the world

  • Lyon critics S theory for assuming that R is declining and being replaced by a rational, scientific worldview.
  • contrary to Webers prediction of increasing rationalisation and disenchantment of the world, Lyon sees the last three or four decades as a period of re-enchantment, with the growth of unconventional beliefs, practices and spirituality.
  • although taditional forms of R have declined, especia;;y in Europe, Lyon points to the growing viality of non-traditional R in the West and its resurgence elsewhere in the world.


  • p-modernists claim that the growth of religious media and the electronic church is evidence against S. however, research shows that people to choose to view programmes that confirm their existing beliefs. it is unlikely therefore that the religious media attracts many new converts
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  • Lyon criticises the evidence used by S theorists, such as church attendance statistics. however, the alternatives he puts forward - such as the idea of the electronic church are not based on extensive evidence
  • Bruce argues that consumerist R of the sort Lyon describes is weak R - it has little effect on the lives of its adherents. as such, he sees its rise as evidence of S, not of the continuing vitality of R

religious market theory

  • S & B are very critical of S theory, which they see as Eurocentric - it focuses on the decline of R in Europe and fails to explain its continuing vitality in America and elsewhere.
  • in their view, it also puts forwards a distorted view of the past and future
  • S&B argue that there was no golden age of R in the past, as S theory implies, nor is it realistic to predict a future end-point for R when everyone will be atheist
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  • instead, S&B propose religious market theory. this theory is based on two assumptions:
    • people are naturally religious and R meets human needs. therefore the overall demand for R remains constant, even thou the demand for particular types of R may vary
    • it is human nature to seek rewards and avoid costs. when people make choices, they weigh up the costs and benefits of the different options available
  • according to S&B, R is attractive because it provides us with compensators. when real rewards are scarce or unobtainable, R compensates by promising supernatural ones
  • for example, immortality is unobtainable, but R compensates by promising life after death.
  • only R can provide such compensators, non-religious ideologies such as humanism and communism do not provide credible compensators because they do not promise supernatural rewards.
  • as an alternative to S theory, whcih sees a one-way process of continuous decline, S&B put forward the concept of a cycle of religious decline, revial and renewal
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  • they describe a perpetual cycle throughout history, with some Rs declining and others growing and attracting new members, for example, when established churches decline, they leave a gap in the market for sects and cults to attract new followers.
  • from this point of view, S theory is one-sdied, it sees the decline, but ignores the growth of new Rs and religious revivals.
  • according to S&B, churches operate like companies selling goods in a market. they argues that competition leads to improvements in the qualtiy of the religious goods on offer
  • the churches that make their product attractive will succeed in attracting more customers. meanwhile churches that are not responsive to the needs of their members will decline

American vs Europe

  • S&B believe that R thrives in the USA because there has never been a religious monopoly there. the Consitution guarantees freedom of R and the separation of church and state and there has always been a great variety of denomination to choose from
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  • this has encouraged the growth of a healthy religious market where R grows or decline according to consumer demand
  • the situation in Europe is entirely different. most European countries have been dominated by an official state church, which had a religious monopoly, such as the Church of England. competition has been held back and the lack of choice has led to decline
  • S&B conclude that the main factor influencing the level of religious participation is not the demand for R, as S theory, but the supply.
  • also based on their comparison of America and Europe, S&B argue that the decline of R is not a universal trend happening in all societies, as S theory suggests
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supply-led R

  • a range of studies S&Bs 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 needs.
  • for example, Hadden and Shupe argue that the growth of televangelism in America shows that the level of religious participationg is supply-led. when commercial funding of religious broadcasts began in the 1960s, it opened up competition in which evangelical churches thrived
  • Finke argues that the lifting of restrictions on Asian immigration into America in the 1960s allows Asian Rs to set up permantly in the USA, so Asian faiths became another option that proved popular with consumers in the religious marketplace
  • according to Stark, Japan is another society where a free market in R has stimulated participation. until 1945, Shintoism was the state R and other Rs were suppressed. however after WW2, R was de-regulated, creating a market in which new Rs such as Soka Gakki have thrived
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  • Bruce rejects the view that diversity and competition increase the demand for R statistics show that diversity has been accompanied by religious decline in both Europe and America
  • Bruce argues that S&B misinterpret S theory. the theory does not claim there was a past golden age of R, or that everyone will become atheists. it simply claims that R is in l-term decline. nor does it claim S is universal - just that it applies to Europe and America
  • Norris and Inglehart show that high levels of religious participation exist in Catholic countries where the Church has a near monopoly, such as Ireland. by contrast, countries with religious pluralism, such as Holland and Australia, often have low levels of participation. this contradicts S&B
  • Beckford criticises religious market theory as unsociological, because it assumes people are naturally religious and fails to explain why they make the choices they do
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Existential security theory

  • Norris and Inglehart reject religious market theory on the grounds that it only applies to America and fails to explain the variations in religiosity between different societies.
  • for example, international studies of R have found no evidence of the link between religious choice and rleigious participation that S&B claim exists
  • Norris and Inglehart argue that the reason for variations in religiosity between societies is not different degrees of religious choice, but different degrees of existential security
  • R meets a need for security, and therefore socieities where people fel secure have a low level of demand for R:
    • poor societies, where people face life-threatening risks such as famine, disease and environmentak disasters, have high levels of insecurity and thus high levels of religiosity. poor people who live in rich societies also face greater insecurity and are therefore more religious than rich people in those societies
    • rich societies, where people have a high standard of living and are at less risk, have a greater sense of security and thus lower levels of religiosity
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  • thus, the demand for R is not constant, as S&B claim, but varies both within and between societies. demand is greater from low income groups and societies, because they are less secure. this explains why poor Third World countries remain religious, while prosperous Western countries have become more secular
  • Norris and Inglehart note that global population growth undermines the trend towards S. rich, secure, secular Western countries have low levels of population growth, whereas poor, insecure religious Third World countries have high rates. as a result, while rich countries are becoming more secular, the majority of the world is becoming more religious

Europe vs American

  • in Western Europe, the trend is towards increasing S. Norris and Inglehart argue that this is not surprising, because these societies are among the most equal and secure in the world, with well-developed welfare states comprehensive health care, social services and pensions. this reduces poverty and protects those at the bottom from insecurity
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  • by comparison with Europe, the USA remains much more religious. Norris and Inglehart argue that this is because America is also the most unequal of the rich societies, with an inadequate welfare safety net and individualistic 'dog eat dog' values. this creates high levels poverty and insecurity, which creates a greater need for R
  • thus, although America is more religious than Europe, Norris and Ingleharts general theory of religiosity as the result of insercurity explain this. for example, they point out that although America is religious by the standards of other rich nations, it is less religious than poor ones

state welfare and religiosity

  • Norris and Ingleharts arguments is supported by Gill and Lundegaarde, who found that the more a country spends on welfare, the lower the level of religious participation. this, European countries, which spend more than the USA, are also more secular than the USA
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  • Gill and Lundegaarde notes that in the past R used to provide welfare for the poor, and still does in poorer countries. however, from the 20th C, the state in the West began to provide welfare and this contributed to Rs decline
  • nevertheless, Gill and Lundegaarde do not expect R to disappear completely, because although a welfare provision meets the need for security, it does not answer ultimate questions about the meaning of life, unlike R. thus although the availability of welfare reduced the need for R, it does not eliminate that need completely


  • Vasquez accepts that Norris and Inglehart offer valuable explanations of different levels of religious participation not only in Europe and the USA, but globally. however, he makes 2 criticisms:
    • they use only quantitative data about income levels, they dont examine peoples own defintion of existential security. Vasquez argues that qualitative resarch is also needed
    • Norris and Inglehart only see R as a negative response to depriation. they ignore the positive reasons people have for religious participation and the appeal that some types of R have for the wealthy
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what S and R?



you are the best :) thank you so much!

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