Seculariation is a contested concept in that there are deep and controversial theoretical and methodological debates about what it is, how o measure it, and whether or not it is occuring.
One of the most popular definitions of secularisation comes from Wilson who definies it as 'the process in which religious institutions, practices and beliefs lose their social significance or importance'.
Religious beliefs - the influence of religion on people's beliefs and values, such as the importance of religion in their lives, whether they see themselves as religious people, whether they believe in things like Gods, spirits or life after death etc.
Religious practice - the things people do to carry out their religious commitmnt, such as the extent to which they take part in acts of religious worship and devotion; like attending church, for example.
Religious insituttions - the extent to which religious insitutions have maintained their social influence in wider society, an how fa they are actively involved and influenc the day to day running of society.
two types of definition - exclusivist (narrow), or inclusivist (broader - possibly including political movements and value system like humanism).
Why is the definition so important? - it affects the out come of the research. how many of the dimensions need to be considered before it can be decided that a religion is in decline? societies may experience the process of secularisation in differing ways?
Problems with measuring some aspects of secularisation - how can sociologists measure the loss of some function? internal secularisation of religious insitutions? the level of secular 'minsets'? disengagement from religion?
Problems with quantitative measurements of secularisation - church attendance and parcipitaion: levels may either be over or under-estimated. problems with self-collected data. differing definitions of membership and attendance. historical parcipitation data is unverifiable. some religious organisations don't keep records.
Problems with opinion polls about beliefs - measuring 'belief' is problematic? interpretation of questions vaires? meaning of responses varies? how far do beliefs influence behaivour?
Evidence and arguments FOR secularisation
1) the decline of religious practice: the strongest evidence for secularisation in the UK comes from the church attendance statistic - according to the 1851 census, aproximately 40% of the population attended church, whereas by 2005 this had reduced to 6.3% (2006 English Church census). Attenance at religious ceremonies such as baptisms, communiion and conformation have also dramatically fallen - Wilson holds a similar view to the New Right in arguing that the decline in church marragies (down to 33% in 2005), the rising divorce rate and the increase in cohabitation and the number of children born outside marriage is evidence that religion and its moral value system exerts little influence today. Gills et all conducted 100 national surveys and found that the number of people describing themselves as a part of religion had halved between 1950 and 1996.
2) Weber - rationalism and disenchantment: rational thought has squeezed out magical and religious ways of thining and starts off the process that leads to the dominance of…