• Created by: hwelch17
  • Created on: 04-10-18 19:35


secularisation = the extent to which religion has declined. 

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secularisation in Britain


  • 1851 - 40% of the British population attend church on a Sunday. 
  • much lower figure today - decline in church attendence, baptisms and church weddings. 
  • Wilson argued that Western societies had been undergoing a long term process of secularisation as the process where 'religious practicies lose social significance'. 

church attendence

  • - 2015 = 5% of the population attended church. 
  • large organisations e.g. church of england has declinded more than small ones, however the growth of small organisations has not made up for the decline of the large ones, so the general trend is still a decline. 
  • weddings and baptism - 1971 - 60% of weddings were in a church, 2012 - 30%. 
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religious affiliation today 

persons religious affilation refers to their membership of or identification with a religion. 

The evidence indicates a continuing decline in the number of people who are affilated to a religion. 

example; 1983 to 2014 the % of adults with no religion rose from around a third to a half. In the same period, those identifying as Christian fell by a third. 

Religious belief today 

evidence about religious beliefs from 80 years of survey shows that religious belief is declining along with the decline of in church attendance and membership. 

example: surveys show a significant decline in belief in a personal god, in Jesus as the son of God and in Christian teachings about the afterlife and the Bible. 

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Religious institutions today

Not only have religious belief and practice declined but also has the influence of religion as a social institution. The church influencehas declined since the 19thC.  The state has taken over many functions the church used to control, thus religion has been confined to the private sphere of the family. 

example: untilmid-19thC, churches provided education, since then the state has taken control. 

the clergy:

  •  one measure of institutional wekaness of the churches is the number of clergy. during the 20th, fell from 45,000 to 34,000.
  • The clergy also had an ageing workforce. Only 12% of Anglican clergy are under 40.
  • As a result, the churches have reached a tipping point, with a sharp decline in the number of clergy to be expected in the near future. 
  • A lack of clergy means that day-to-day influence of the churches is reduced. 
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explanations of secularisation - 1

Max Weber: Rationalisation 

  • = refers to the process by which rational ways of thinking and acting replace religious ones. 
  • Weber argues that Western society has undergone rationalisation. The Prostestant Reformation began by Martin Luther in the 16thC started the process. This undermined the religious worldview of the Middle Ages and replaced it with the scientific outlook found in modern society. 
  • He argues that the medieval atholic worldview that dominated Europe saw the world as an 'enchanted garden'.  God and other spiritual beings were believed to be present and active, changing the course of through their supernatural powers. Humans could try to influence these beings ie. prayer. 


however, the Protestant Reformation brought a new worldview. Instead of the interventionist God of medieval Catholicism, Protestantism saw God as transcendent - as existing above and beyond, or outside, this world. Although God had created the world, he did not intervene in it, but instead left it to run according to its own laws of nature. Like a watchmaker, he made the world and set it in motion, but thereafter it ran according to it's own principles. 

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explanations of secularisation - 2

Disenchantment (cont.) - This meant that events were no longer to be explained as the work of unpredictable supernatural beings, but as the predictable workings of natural forces. All that was needed to undertsand them was rationality - the power of reason. Using science, we could discover the laws of nature, understand and predict how the world works and control it through technology - there was no need for religious explanations of the world, since the world was no longer an enchanted garden. in Weber's view, therefore, the Protestant Reformation begins the 'disenchantment' of the world - starts off the new rationalsation process that leads to domination of rational mode of thought.  This enables science to thrive and gives humans more power to control nature. This further undermines the religious worldview. 

A technological worldview

  • Following Weber, Bruce argues that the growth of a technological worldview has largely replaced religious explanations of why things happen. 
  • example: when a plane crashes and lives are lost, we are unlikely to blame it as the work of God. 
  • A technological worldview thus leaves little room for religious explanations in everyday life,  which only survive in areas where tech is least effective. 
  • Bruce concludes that although scientific explanations do not challenge religion directly, they have greatly reduced the scope for religious explanations. Scientific knowledge does not in itself make people into athiests, but the worldview it encourages results in people taking religious less seriously.  
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explanations of secularisation - 3

Structural differenatiation 

Parsons - defines it as a process of specialisation that occurs with the development of industrial society. Seperate, specialised institutions develop to carry out functions that were previously performed by a single institution. Parsons sees this as having happened to religion - it dominated pre-industrial society, but with industrialisation it has become a smaller and more specialised institution. 

Disengagement - Parsons = structural differentiation leads to the disengagment of religion. Its functions are transferred to other institutions (state) and becomes disconnnected from wider society. Example - church loses influence once had on education and law. 

Privatisation - Bruce agrees that religion has become seperated from wider society and lost many of it's former functions. It has become privatised - confined to the private sphere of the family. Religious beliefs are now a matter of personal choice and have lost influence on wider society. As a result, rituals and symbols have lost meaning. 

Even where religion continues to perform functions (education), it must conform to the requirements of the secular state. example - teachers in faith schools must have qualifications. At the same time, church and state became seperated. 

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explanations of secularisation - 4

social and cultural diversity 

  • decline of community - the move from pre-industrial to industrial society brings about decline of community and this contributes to decline of religion.  Wilson argues that in pre-industrialsed communities, shared values were expressed through collective religious rituals that integrated them. However, when religion lost its basis in stable communities, it lost its vitality and its hold over individuals. 
  • industrialisation - Similarly, Bruce sees industrialisation as undermining the consensus of religious beliefs that hold small rural communities together. Small close-knit rural communities give way too large loose-knit urban communities with diverse beliefs. social and geogrpahical mobility brings people together from many backgrounds, creating more diversity. 
  • diversity of occupations, cultures abd lifestyles undermines religion - even where people continue to hold religious beliefs, they cannot avoid knowing that many of those around them hold very different views. Bruce argues thatthe plausability of beliefs is undermined by alternatives. it is also undermined by individualsim because the plausability of religion depends on the existence of a practising community of believers. In the absence of a practising religious community that functions on a day-to-day basis, both religous belief and practice tend to decline 
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explanations of secularisation - 5


The view that the decline of the community causes the decline of religion has been criticised. Aldridge points out that a community does not have to be in a particular area: 

  • Religion can be a source of identity on a worldwide scale - true of Jewish and Hindu communities. 
  • Some religious communities are imagined communities that interact through the use of global media.
  • Pentocostal and other religious groups often flourish in 'impersonal' urban areas. 

Religious diversity 

Berger - another cause of secularisation is the trend towards religious diversity where instead of there being only one religious organisation and only one interpretation of the faith, there are many. 

The scared canopy -   Rather than one religious organisation and only one interpretation of faith, there are now many (Berger, 1969).  In Europe during the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had a monopoly on religious thought. Following the Reformation, society was no longer unified by ONE church. This created a crisis of credibility for religion. Berger (1990) argues that religion provides a ‘universe of meaning’ – these give people values which helps them understand the world. Hence individuals are faced with a number of competing belief systems and ways of living. Therefore it is difficult to maintain that any religion has a monopoly on the truth (a postmodernist stance).

Berger argues that rationalisation and increasing geographical and social mobility means people are far more aware of alternate lifestyles. The social world is increasingly fragmented and diverse, there are many different beliefs and lifestyles to choose from, so people are less certain about morality and their identity. They are cut off from traditional beliefs and supports - there are no certainties. This results in ANOMIE.

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explanations of secularisation - 6

Cultural defence and transition 

Bruce identifies 2 counter-trends that go against secularisation theory. Both are associated with higher than average levels of religious participation.

  • cultural defence - is where religion provides a focal point for the defence of national, ethnic, local or group identity in a struggle against an external force such as a hostile foreign power. example - the popularity if Catholicism in Poland before the fall of communism. 
  • Cultural transition - is where religion provides support and a sense of community for ethnic groups such as migrants to a different country & culture. Herberg describes this in his study of religion and immigration to the USA. Religion has performed similar functions to Irish, Hindu etc imigrants to the UK.

However, Bruce argues that religion survives in such situations only because it is a focus for a group identity. Thus these example do not disprove secularisation, but show that religion is most likely to survive where it performs functions other than relating individuals to the supernatural. 

Evidence supports Bruce's conclusion. Example - churchgoing declined in Poland after the fall of communism. 

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explanations of secularisation - 7

Criticisms -

Berger has changed his views and now argues that diversity and choice actually stimulates interest abd participation un religion. Example - growth of evangelicalism in Latin America abd the New Christian RIght in the USA point to the continuing vitality if religionm not its decline.

Beckford agrees with the idea that religious diversity will leads some to question or even abandon their religious beliefs, but this is not inevitable. Opposing views can have the effect of strengthening a religious group's commitment to its exiting beliefs rather than undermining them. 

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secularisation in america 1

in 1962, Wilson found 45% of Americans attended church on Sundays. However he argued that churchgoing in America was more an expression of the 'American way of life' than of deeply held religious beliefs. He claimed that America was a secular society, not because people had abandoned church, but because religion there had become superficial. 

Bruce shares Wilsons view. he uses 3 sources of evidence to support his claim that America is becoming increasingly secular:

  • declining church attendance
  • 'secularisation from within' 
  • trend towards reliigous diversity and relativism 

Decliningchurch attendance

  • opinion poll research asking people about church attendance suggests it has been stable at 40% of the population since 1940. 
  • However, Hadaway found yhis figure did not match the churches' own attendance statistics. if they were, the church would be full - it is not. 
  • to investigate their suspicion that opinion polls exaggerate attendance rates, Hadaway et al studied church attendance in America. To estimate attendance, the carried out head counts at services. Used interviews and asked people if they attended church. Found the % cliamed was 83% higher than the researchers estimates of church attendance in the country. 
  • There is evidence that this tendancy to exaggerate churchgoing is a recent development. until the 1970's - findings matched. 
  • Bruce concludes a stable rate of self-reported attendance of about 40% has masked a decline in actual attendance in the USA. The widening gap - still seen as socially desirable to go to church, so people who have stoppped going will lie to appear normal. 
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secularisation in America - 2

Secularisation from within 

  • Bruce argues that the way American religion has adjusted to the modern world amounts to secularisation from within. The emphasis on traditional Christian beliefs and glorifying God has declined and religion in US has become 'psychologised' or turned it into a form of therapy. This change has enabled it to fit in with a secular society. In short, US religion has remained popular by becoming less religious. 
  • The purpose of religion has changed from seeking salvation in heaven to seeking personal improvement in this world. This decline in commitment to traditional beliefs can be seen in people's attitudes. Churchgoers are now less strict than previously in their adherence to traditional religious morality. 

religious diversity 

  • the growth of religious diversity has alos contributed to secularisation from within. Churchgoers are becoming less dogmatic in their views. 
  • Bruce identifies a trend towards practical relativism among American Christians, involving acceptance of the view that others are entitled to hold beliefs that are diffferent to one's own. Shown in Lynd and Lynd's study. found: 1924-94% of churchgoing young people agreed with the statement, 1977-41% agreed. 
  • The counterpart to practical relativism is the erosion of absolution - that is,we now live in a societywhere many people hold views that are completely different to ours, which undermines our assumption that our own views are absolutely true. 
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secularisation in America - 3

Criticisms of secularisation theory

  • Religion is not declining but simply changing its form
  • secularisation theory is one-sided. It focuses on decline and ignores religious revivals and the growth of new religions. 
  • Evidence of falling church attendance ignores poeple who believe but don't go to church 
  • Religion may have declined in Europe but not globally, so secularisation is not universal. 
  • The past was not a 'golden age' of faith from which we have declined, and the future will not be an age of atheism. 
  • Far from causing decline, religious diversity increases particpation because it offers choice. There is no overall downward trend. Religious trends point in different directions and people make use of religion in all sorts of different ways 
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