Topic 3 secularisation

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  • Created on: 26-04-19 00:57
Secularisation in Britain
Based on evidence from the 1851 Census of religious worship Crockett (1998) estimates that in that year 40% or more of the adult population of Britain attended church on Sundays. This is a much higher figure than today and it is certainly the case
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Secularisation in Britain (2)
that there have been some major changes in religion in the UK since then. For example a decline in the proportion of the population going to church or belonging to one, an increase in the average age of churchgoers, fewer baptisms and church wedding,
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Secularisation in Britain (3)
a decline in the numbers holding traditional christian beliefs and greater diversity, including more non-Christian religions.
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Secularisation in Britain (4)
Sociologists have put forward different explanations of these trends and reached different conclusions about whether and how far religion is declining. In 1966 Bryan Wilson argued that Western societies had been undergoing a long term-process of
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Secularisation in Britain (5)
secularisation. He defined secularisation as the process whereby religious beliefs, practices and institutions lose social significance.
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Church attendance today
The trends Wilson identified have continued. By 2015 about 5% of the adult population attended church on Sundays. Churchgoing in Britain has therefore more than halved since Wilson's research in the 1960s. The English Census (2006) shows that
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Church attendance today (2)
attendances at large organisations such as the Church of England and the Catholic Church have declined more than small organisations, some of which are remaining stable or have grown. However the growth of these small organisations has not made up
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Church attendance today (3)
for the decline of large ones, so the overall trend is still one of decline. Similarly, while church weddings and baptisms remain more popular than attendance at Sunday services, here too the trend is downwards.
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Religious affiliation today
A person's religious affiliation refers to their membership of or identification with a religion. The evidence indicates a continuing decline in the number of people who are affiliated to a religion. Between 1983 and 2014 the percentage of adults
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Religious affiliation today (2)
with no religion rose from around a third to around a half. In the same period those identifying as Christian fell by a third. The fall was sharpest for Anglicans whose numbers more than halved. The numbers of Catholics increased slightly,
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Religious affiliation today (3)
due to East European immigration. Those belonging to a non-christian religion mainly Islam also increased partly due to immigration and higher birth rates. 'Other Christians' include denominations such as Methodists and Baptists.
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Religious affiliation today (4)
This category has remained static since 1983 at 17% of the population. But while over four fifths of them identified with a specific denomination in 1983, only a fifth are now attached to a group.
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Religious beliefs today
Evidence about religious beliefs from 80 years of survey research shows that religious belief is declining along with the decline in church attendance and membership. For example surveys show a significant decline in belief in a personal god,
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Religious beliefs today (2)
in Jesus as the son of God in Christian teachings about the afterlife and the Bible.
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Religious institutions today
Not only have religious belief and practice declined; so too has the influence of religion as a social institution. Although the church has some influence on public life, this has declined rapidly since the 19th century. In particular the state has
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Religious institutions today (2)
taken over many of the functions that the church used to perform. Thus whereas religion once pervaded every aspect of life it has increasingly been confined to the private sphere of the individual and the family.
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Religious institutions today (3)
The clergy: one measure of the institutional weakness of the churches is the number of clergy. During the 20th century this fell from 45,000 to 34,000. Had it kept pace with population growth, the clergy would now number over 80,000.
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Religious institutions today (4)
The clergy are also an ageing workforce. Only 12% of Anglican clergy are under 40, while new ordinations of Catholic priests are now below one tenth of their 1965 figure. As a result the churches have reached a tipping point with a sharp decline in
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Religious institutions today (5)
the number of clergy to be expected in the near future. As Linda Woodhead (2014) concludes: ' to put it bluntly, there are no longer enough troupers left to keep the show on the road'. A lack of clergy on the ground in local communities means that
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Religious institutions today (6)
the day-to-day influence of the churches is reduced. Summing up the overall trend, Steve Bruce (2002) agrees with Wilson that all the evidence on secularisation has now been pointing in the same direction for many years.
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Religious institutions today (7)
Bruce predicts that if current trends continue, the Methodist church will fold around 20330 and by then the Church of England will be merely a small voluntary organisation with a large amount of heritage property.
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Explanations of secularisation
Sociologists have developed a variety of theories and concepts to explain the process of secularisation. A common theme is modernisation involving the decline of tradition and its replacement with rational and scientific ways of thinking that tend to
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Explanations of secularisation (2)
undermine religion. Secularisation theory also emphasises the effect of social change on religion. For example industrialisation leads to to the break up of small communities that were held together by common religious beliefs.
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Explanations of secularisation (3)
A major theme in explanations of secularisation is the growth of social and religious diversity. Not only are people increasingly diverse in terms of their occupational and cultural backgrounds but religious institutions are much more varied.
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Explanations of secularisation (4)
Secularisation theorists argue that the growth of diversity has undermined both the authority of religious institutions and the credibility of religious beliefs. As a result of these changes religious practice, such as churchgoing has also declined.
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Max Weber: rationalisation
In relation to secularisation, rationalisation refers to the process by which rational ways of thinking and acting come to replace religious ones. Many sociologists have argued that Western society has undergone a process of rationalisation.
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Max Weber: rationalisation (2)
The most important of these is Max Weber (1905). He argued that the protestant reformation begun by Martin Luther King in the 16th century started a process of rationalisation of life in the West. This process undermined that religious worldview of
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Max Weber: rationalisation (3)
the Middle Ages and replaced it with the rational scientific outlook found in modern society. For Weber the medieval Catholic worldview that dominated Europe saw the world as an 'enchanted garden'. God and other spiritual beings and forces were
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Max Weber: rationalisation (4)
believed to be present and active in this world, changing the course of events through their supernatural powers and miraculous interventions in it. Humans could try to influence these beings and forces by magical means such as prayers and spells.
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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.
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Disenchantment (2)
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 had made the world and set it in motion but thereafter it ran according to its own principles.
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Disenchantment (3)
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 understand them was rationality- the power of reason.
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Disenchantment (4)
Using reason and science, humans could discover the laws of nature, understand and predict how the world works and control it through technology. In other words there was no longer a need for religious explanations of the world.
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Disenchantment (5)
In Weber' view therefore the Protestant Reformation begins the disenchantment of the world-it squeezes out magical and religious ways of thinking and starts off the rationalisation process that leads to the dominance of the rational mode of thought.
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Disenchantment (6)
This enables science to thrive and provide the basis for technological advances that give humans more and more power to control nature. In turn this further undermines the religious worldview.
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A technological worldview
Following Weber Bruce (2011) argues that the growth of a technological worldview has largely replaced religious or supernatural explanations of why things happen. For example when a plane crashes with the loss of many lives we are unlikely to regard
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A technological worldview (2)
it as the work of evil spirits or God's punishment of the wicked. Instead we look for scientific sand technological explanations. A technological worldview thus leaves little room for religious explanations in everyday life which only survive in
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A technological worldview (3)
areas where technology is least effective-for example we may pray for help if we are suffering from an illness for which scientific medicine has no cure. Bruce concludes that although scientific explanations do not challenge religion directly,
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A technological worldview (4)
they have greatly reduced the scope for religious explanations. Scientific knowledge does not in itself make people into atheists but the worldview it encourages results in people taking religion less seriously.
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Structural differentiation
Talcott Parsons (1951) defines structural differentiation as a process of specialisation that occurs with the development of industrial society. Separate, specialised institutions develop to carry out functions that were previously performed by a
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Structural differentiation (2)
single institution. Parsons see this as having happened to religion-it dominated pre-industrial society but with industrialisation it has become a smaller and more specialised institution.
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Structural differentiation (3)
According to Parsons structural differentiation leads to the disengagement of religion. Its functions are transferred to other institutions such as the state and it becomes disconnected from wider society.
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Structural differentiation (4)
Bruce agrees that religion has become separated from wider and has lost many of its former functions. It has become privatised- confined to the private sphere of the home and family. Religious beliefs are now largely a matter of personal choice and
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Structural differentiation (5)
religious institutions have lost much of their influence on wider society. As a result traditional rituals and symbols have lost meaning. Even where religion continues to perform functions such as education or social welfare it must conform to the
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Structural differentiation (6)
requirements of the secular state. For example teachers in faith schools must hold qualifications that are recognised by the state. At the same time church and state tend to become separated in modern society.
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Social and cultural diversity
Decline of community: the move from pre-industrial to industrial society brings about the decline of community and this contributes to the decline of religion. Wilson argues that in pre-industrial communities, shared values were expressed through
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Social and cultural diversity (2)
collective religious rituals that integrated individuals and regulated their behaviour. However when religion lost its basis in stable local communities it lost its vitality and its hold over individuals.
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Social and cultural diversity (3)
Industrialisation: similarly Bruce sees industrialisation as undermining the consensus of religious beliefs that hold small rural communities together. Small knit rural communities give way to large loose knit urban communities with diverse beliefs.
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Social and cultural diversity (4)
Diversity of occupations, cultures and 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 that the plausibility of
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Social and cultural diversity (5)
beliefs is undermined by alternatives. It is also undermined by individualism because the plausibility of religion depends on the existence of a practising community of believers.
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The view that the decline of 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.
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Criticisms (2)
Some religious communities are imagined communities that interact through the use of global media. Pentecostal and other religious groups often flourish in impersonal urban areas.
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Religious diversity
According to Berger (1969) 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.
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Religious diversity (2)
The sacred canopy. In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church held an absolute monopoly- it has no competition. As a result everyone lived under a single sacred canopy or set of shared beliefs shared by all.
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Religious diversity (3)
This all changed with the Protestant Reformation when protestant churches and sects broke away from catholic church in the 16th century. Since the Reformation the number and variety of religious organisations has continued to grow.
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Religious diversity (4)
With this arrival of this religious diversity no church can now claim an unchallenged monopoly of the truth. Society is thus no longer unified under the single sacred canopy provided by one church.
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Religious diversity (5)
Plausibility structure. Berger argues that this creates a crisis of credibility for religion. Diversity undermines religion's plausibility structure- the reasons why people find it believable. When there are alternative versions of religion to choose
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Religious diversity (6)
between people are likely to question all of them and this erodes the absolute certainties of traditional religion. Religious beliefs become relative rather than absolute- what is true or false becomes simply a personal point of view and this creates
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Cultural defence and transition
Bruce identifies two counter-trends that seem to 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,
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Cultural defence and transition (2)
ethnic, local or group identity in a struggle against an external force such as a hostile foreign power.
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Cultural defence and transition (3)
Cultural transition is where religion provides support and a sense of community for ethnic groups such as migrants to a different country and culture. Herberg describes this in his study of religion and immigration to the USA.
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Cultural defence and transition (4)
However Bruce argues that religion survives in such situations only because it is a focus for group identity. Thus these examples do not disprove secularisation, but show that religion is most likely to survive where it performs functions.
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Cultural defence and transition (5)
Evidence supports Bruce's conclusion. For example churchgoing declined in Poland after the fall of communism and there is evidence that religion loses importance for migrants once they are integrated into society.
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Berger (1999) has changed his views and now argues that diversity and choice actually stimulate interest and participation in religion. Beckford (2013) agrees with the idea that religious diversity will lead some to question their religious beliefs.
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Secularisation in America
In 1962 Wilson found that 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. Wilson claimed that America was a secular
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Secularisation in America (2)
society not because people had abandoned the churches but because religion there had become superficial. Bruce (2002;2011) shares Wilson's view. He uses three sources of evidence to support his claim that America is becoming increasingly secular
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Declining church attendance
Opinion poll research asking people about church attendance suggests that it has been stable at about 40% of the population since 1940. However Kirk Hadaway (1993) working with a team of researchers employed by major churches found that this figure
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Declining church attendance (2)
did not match the churches' own attendance statistics. If 40% of Americans were going to the church the churches would be full-but they were not. To investigate their suspicion that opinion polls exaggerate attendance rates.
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Declining church attendance (3)
Hadaway et al (1993) studied church attendance in Ashtabula County Ohio. To estimate attendance they carried out head counts at services. Then in interviews they asked people if they attended church They found that the level of attendance claimed by
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Declining church attendance (4)
the interviewees was 83% higher than the researchers' estimates of church attendance in the county. There is evidence that this tendency to exaggerate churchgoing is a recent development. Until the 1970s the findings of opinion polls matched the
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Declining church attendance (5)
churches' own estimates but since then the attendance gap has widened. For example a study of attendance of Catholic mass in San Francisco found that in 1972 opinion polls exaggerated attendance by 47% but by 1996 the exaggeration has doubled.
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Declining church attendance (6)
Thus Bruce concludes that a stable rate of self-reported attendance of about 40% has masked a decline in actual attendance in the United States. The widening gap may be due to the fact that it is still seen as socially desirable or normative to go to
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Declining church attendance (7)
church so people who have stopped going will still say they attend if asked in a survey.
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Secularisation from within
Bruce argues that the way American religion had adjusted to the modern world amounts to secularisation from within. The emphasis on traditional Christian beliefs and glorifying God has declined and religion in America has become psycholognised
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Secularisation from within (2)
or turned into a form of therapy. This change has enabled it to fit in with a secular society. In short American religion has remained popular by becoming less religious. The purpose of religion has changed from seeking salvation in heaven to seeking
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Secularisation from within (3)
personal improvement in this world. This decline in commitment to traditional beliefs can be seen in people;s attitudes and lifestyles. Churchgoers are now much less strict than previously in their adherence to traditional religious morality.
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Religious diversity
The growth of religious diversity has also 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
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Religious diversity (2)
view that others are entitled to hold beliefs that are different to one's own. This is shown in Lynd and Lynd's (1929) study which found in 1924 that 94% of churchgoing young people agreed with their statement 'Christianity is one true religion and
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Religious diversity (3)
all people should be converted to it'. However by 1977 only 41% agreed. The counterpart to practical relativism is the erosion of absolutism-that is we now live in a society where many people hold views that are completely different to ours.
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Criticisms of secularisation theory
Secularisation theorists put forward strong arguments and evidence to support their claim that religious beliefs, practices and institutions have declined both in Britain and America.
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Criticisms of secularisation theory (2)
However secularisation theory has been criticised in several ways. Its opponents highlight the following point: religion is not declining but simply changing its form, secularisation theory is one-sides. It focuses on decline and ignores how
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Criticisms of secularisation theory (3)
religious revivals and the growth of new religions. Evidence of falling church attendance ignores people who believe but dont go to church. Religion may have declined in Europe but not globally so secularisation is not universal.
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Criticisms of secularisation theory (4)
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 participation because it offers choice. There is no overall downward trend.
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Secularisation in Britain (2)


that there have been some major changes in religion in the UK since then. For example a decline in the proportion of the population going to church or belonging to one, an increase in the average age of churchgoers, fewer baptisms and church wedding,

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Secularisation in Britain (3)


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