Defining Secularisation

  • The process of becoming less religious 
  • sociologists cannot agree on a definition of religion so cannot define or measure secularisation 
  • Wilson (1992) those who use substantive definitions are more likely to support secularisation thesis because they can show religion has declined, those who use functional definitions tend to reject secularisation 
  • important to consider the changing practice of religion 

Wilson (1966) definition 

'the process by which religious institutions, actions and ideas lose their social significance'

Wilson argues that Western society has undergone long term secularisation 

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Explaining Secularisation

The Power and Influence of the Church 

  • power of the church in Wester Europe has declined
  • In medieval ages the Roman Catholic church was a central power being a major employer, shape and dominate imagination, provided literacy and told stories through painting, glass work ect
  • Today, many churches are in ruins, the population has doubled whilst the clergy has halved, they are no longer crucial for information and guidance and people turn to media and the medical profression 

Religious Beliefs and Practices 

  • strongest evidence in church attendance statistics 
  • Brierley (1999) in 1851, 40% of the population attended church, in 1950 this had fell to 20% and only 7.5% in 2000
  • church weddings, baptism and sunday school is in decline
  • Bruce predicts that by 2030 the CoE will be a small voluntary organisation
  • 2001 census shows 70% still class themselves as Christian  
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Explaining Secularisation


  • rational thinking stems from science
  • scientific process has resulted in higher living standards 
  • it provides convincing explanations for phenomenon 
  • Weber suggest the protestant refomation led by Martin Luther started rationalisation
  • it undermines the church 


  • we no longer believe in the unpredictable supernatural beings
  • reason and science discovers laws and predicts how the world works 
  • this has pushed out magical and spiritual elements of our beliefs 

A Technological Worldview 

  • Bruce argues technology has replaced religion, as people take religion less seriously 
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Explaining Secularisation


  • the church is no longer involved in important areas of social life
  • its functions have transferred to other institutions
  • people are more concerned with their material standard of well being 
  • more likely to take moral direction from mass media

Religious Diversity 

  • Berger (1969) diversity has caused secularisation as there is a crisis of credibility 
  • the monopoly of truth is undermined 

Spiritual Revolution

  • there are more new age beliefs 
  • self help ect 
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Internal Secularisation


  • church going in the 60s (42% of the population) was more an expression of the American way of life
  • a new secular society may be due to the superficiality of religion


  • declining church attendance - level of attendance is 83% higher than the estimates of church attendance
  • this tendency to exaggerate is a recent phenomena as it is still seem as socially desirable to go to church 
  • Secularisation from within - religion has turned more into therapy, popular religions now being 'less religious' than before , we no longer seek salvation but want personal improvement in this life 
  • religious attitudes - people are more accepting of the views of others 
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  • statistics from previous centuries are unreliable as no data collection was in place
  • contempary statistics are also unreliable as they use different counting methods to one another
  • many churches do not record attendance figures and some exaggerate greatly 
  • religion is more and more so a private experience 
  • you cannot measure a belief in god 
  • tendancy to look upon the golden age of religion as the middle ages however, peasant religious activity isnt well documented and it is likely they were indifferent or hostile to the church 
  • there is a dismissal of NRMs in secularisation 
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