topic 3 secularisation

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Secularisation in Britain

1851 census of religious worship shows 40% or more attended church on sundays. 

Some say 19th century was 'Golden age' of religiousity.  
-increase in average age of churchgoers.
-fewer Baptisms/weddings
-greater religious diversity.

Secularisation -> the process whereby religious beliefs + practices and institutions lose significance.
Church attendance dropped from 40% to 10-15% in 1960's.
In 2005, only 6.3% of adults attend church on sundays.
Sunday school attendance has also declined.
3/5 of weddings are in churches in 1971.
Now 1/3! 

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Religous beliefs today

More people claim to hold christian beliefs than actually do go to church.

Beliefs are declining as well as attendances + membership.
Gill -> reviewed surveys. Would you describe yourself as being of any religion? 23% no in1950.
43% no in 1996.

Religious institutions.  
Churches used to provide education but now the state does. 
Lack of clergy means the day to day influence on the church is needed.
Was 45,000 clergy in 1900.-Now 34,000 in 2000
Yet the population in the Uk has almost doubled.
Bruce predicts that by 2030, church of England will be a voluntary organisation with lots of heritage property.  

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Explanation of secularisation.

Modernisation -> decline of tradition. 
- effect on social change ( collectivism / individualism)
Social + religious diversity.

Weber = RATIONALISATION has 2 parts.
Rational ways of thinking replace religious ones..
eg catholic worldwide view (enchanted garden = big bang)  

Disenchantment (part 1) 
Protestantism saw God as transcendant. - he existed above but didnt interfere.
The supernatural was explained by science (the power of reason)
Science thrived.  

Technological worldview (part 2) 
Scientific explanations do not challenge religion directly but they have greatly reduced the scope for religious explanations.
Science doesnt make people Aiethiest but they take religion less seriously.  

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Explanations of secularisation 2.

Structural differentiation. 
Parsons -
it has led to disengagement of religion. 
Church has lost impact on education, social welfare and law.
Bruce says religion has become privatised (home+ family) 
Religion is now personal choice.

Social + cultural diversity.
Industrial society brings secularisation due to greater diversity.  
Younger people are more geographically mobile for work, therefore it breaks up communities + brings around more diverse society.
Many alternative religions offered.

Religion can be a form of identity.
Some religions interact through social/social media.  

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Religious diversity.

Berger -> there are many different opinions on faith. 
In the middle ages = single canopy everyone was catholic.
But there was no challenges to their theory.  > all changed when protestant churches came about.  ( separate from catholic)
Berger says this was crisis of credibility for religion.- they can have individual perceptions.

Bruce says religious diversity as most important reason for secularisation.  

Cultural defense/ transition.
Religion provides focal point for the defiance of identity.
Transition -> religion provides support + sense of community for migrants.  
Often people identify themselves within a religion although do not hold deep religious beliefs.

Berger changed his view and says choice + diversity stimulates interest and participation of religion.  

A spiritual revolution -> therapies /yoga/ meditation are taking over traditional religion. 

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Secularisation in America.

Wilson said churchgoing in America was more a way of life than deeply held religious beliefs. 

Bruce - 3 sources. 
Declining church attendance.1
opinion polls research asking suggested attendance was stable sine 1940 at 40%.
-> however this would have made churches full but they werent.
Social desirability has squewed results of the decline.

Secularisation from within.2  
Religion has turned into a form of therapy where people seek personal improvement.

Religious diversity 3
Practical relativism... acceptance that others can have different views -> 94% of young churchgoers believed in. -> counterpart is EROSION OF ABSOLUTISM. 
- we live in diverse society and people hold different set of beliefs to our own.  

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Criticisms of secularisation theory.


  • Religion isnt declining, it is just changing its form. 
  • ignores religiou revivals + growth of new religions
  • Evidence of falling church attendance ignores people who believe but dont go to church. 
  • secularisation may just be ETHNOCENTRIC! not in USA BUT UK. 
  • Religious diversity offers more choice so there is no overall downward trend. 
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