3. Secularisation

Revision cards for Beliefs in Society - Secularisation. Please rate once you're done, thanks :)

Secularisation in Britain

Evidence for Secularisation

  • Decline in church attendence (1850s: 40%; 1960s: 10-15%; 2015: 5%)
  • Increase in average age of churchgoers
  • Fewer baptisms & church weddings
  • Decline in numbers holding traditional Christian beliefs
  • Greater diversity

Church Attendence Today

  • 5% adult pop. attend Church on Sundays
  • CofE & Catholic Church in decline, whilst denominations remain stable or grow
  • Decline in church weddings (1971: 60%; 2012: 30%)

Religious Affiliation Today

  • Atheists / Agnostics 1983: 1/3; 2014: 1/2
  • Christians fell by 1/3 1983-2014
  • Denominations reamined at around 17%

Religious Institutions Today

  • Lost influence in public sphere
  • Loss of clergy (Catholic priests fell by 1/3 1965-2011)
1 of 4

Explanations of Secularisation 1


  • Rationalisation: The process by which rational ways of thinking & acting replace religious ones
  • Disengagement: Where religion & the state break apart
  • Pluralism: Where there are multiple religions in society


  • Reformation brough about a new worldview
  • Protestantism: God is non-interventionist - No longer a need for religious explanations

Bruce: A Technological Worldview

  • Science & technology has replaced religious explanations for events
  • Religious explanations only survive where technology is least effective

Parsons: Structural Differentiation

  • Religion has become specialised in industrial society
  • Disengagement & privatisation
2 of 4

Explanations of Secularisation 2

Social & Cultural Diversity

  • Decline of Community; industrialisation & lifestyle diversity undermine religion
  • "Imagined communities"
  • Pentecostalism & Methodism trhive in urban areas

Religious Diversity

  • Berger: Religious pluralism causes secularisation
  • The Sacred Canopy - In the Middle Ages, everyone lived under the same religious canopy (Catholicism), making religion more plausible. Changed with the Protestant Reformation (pluralism)
  • Changes the plausibility structure, as diversity causes religion to become relative rather than absolute

Bruce: Cultural Defence & Transition

  • Cultural defence: Religion provides a source of identity
  • Cultural transition: Religion provides support & community for immigrants
  • Diversity & choice stimulate interest in religion e.g. New Right
  • Secularisation is not inevitable in pluralistic society
3 of 4

Secularisation in America

Declining Church Attendance

  • Opinion polls: 40% since 1940 (social desirability)

Bruce: Secularisation from within

  • Religion in America has survived by secularising from within (less emphasis on God & more on personal improvement)

Religious Diversity

  • Churchgoers are less dogmatic
  • Practical relativism
  • Erosion of absolutism


  • Religion is changing, not declining
  • Ignores revivals & new religions
  • Believing without belonging
  • Not universal
  • Diversity increases participation because it increases choice
4 of 4


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Beliefs in Society resources »