1. What Do Secular, Secularisation, and Secularisation Theory Mean?
“...the ongoing, growing, and powerful movement called secularism, a way of understanding and living that is indifferent to religion -- in fact, not even concerned enough to pay it any attention, much less oppose it.”
National Council of Churches1
Secular means without religion. Non-religious people lead secular lives. Secular government runs along rational and humanistic lines. This is the norm in democratic countries. The individuals that make up the government are rightly free to have whatever religion they want, as are the populace. Because of this freedom, in a multicultural world, there is a requirement for governments not to cause resentment or divisions by identifying itself with a particular religion. The most well-known phrase proposing secular democracy as an ideal is Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state" [paraphrased].
Secularism, promoted by secularists, is the belief that religion should be a private, personal, voluntary affair that does not impose upon other people. Public spaces and officialdom should therefore be religion-neutral. Secularism ensures that religions are treated fairly and that no bias exists for a particular religion, and also that non-religious folk such as Humanists are treated with equal respect. It is the only democratic way to proceed in a globalized world where populations are free to choose their own, varied, religions. ⇒ See Secularism.
Secularisation is the process of things becoming more secular. Most of the Western world has seen this paradigm come to dominate politics and civil life, starting from the time of the Enlightenment. For example in 1864 the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) published a document as a hostile response to fledging secularisation, as growing tolerance for other religions and the growing power of democracy was challenging the RCC's power to implement its doctrine in the countries of Europe2. Thus as the world develops morally and tolerance and public equality come to the fore, religion, because it causes issues, retreats from the public sphere as people prefer to meet on neutral terms, in peace.
Secularisation Theory is the theory in sociology that as society advances in modernity, religion retreats and becomes increasingly hollow. The theory holds that intellectual and scientific developments have undermined the spiritual, supernatural, superstitious and paranormal ideas on which religion relies for its legitimacy, and, the differentiation of modern life into different compartments (i.e. work, politics, society, education and knowledge, home-time, entertainment) have relegated religion to merely one part of life, rather than an all-pervading narrative. As this continues, religion becomes more and more shallow, surviving for a while on empty until loss of active membership forces it into obscurity - although most theorists only hold this happens for organized public religion, not for private spirituality. ⇒ See: Definitions of Secularisation Theory: Why is Religion Declining?
The evidences and shortcomings of this theory are discussed later in this text.
Some take the process of secularisation as a personal affront, and think that mere lack of bias from government implies an active attack. They see any reduction in (their own) public religion to be bad, and apparently they do not understand the causes or reasons behind the secularisation of officialdom. Hopefully this page will address this.
2. Which are the Least Religious Countries?3
“Atheists (those who do not believe in any god), and humanists (those who embrace a morality that does not appeal to any supernatural source), and others who consider themselves non-religious, are a large and growing population across the world. A detailed survey in 2012 revealed that religious people make up 59% of the world population, while those who identify as "atheist" make up 13%, and an additional 23% identify as "not religious" (while not self-identifying as "atheist"). The report by the Gallup International Association (available at http://www.wingia.com/web/files/news/14/file/14.pdf) is in line with other recent global surveys. It shows that atheism and the non religious population are growing rapidly - religion dropped by 9% and atheism rose by 3% between 2005 and 2012 - and that religion declines in proportion to the rise in education and personal income, which is a trend that looks set to continue.”
"Freedom of Thought" by IHEU (2012)6
2.1. Religion in Europe
Over the last 60 years, religion in Europe has seen a strong decline. On average throughout the 27 EU countries, only half of its people believe in God7 and 25.4% directly say that they have no religion8. There is much variation from country to country. Only 16% of the populace of Estonia believe in God and the Scandinavian countries are highly atheist. But 95% believe in Malta. Two main social groups are particularly prone to belief in God; those over 55 years old and those whose education did not proceed beyond the 15-year-old stage.7. For a discussion on secularisation in general, see: "Secularisation Theory: Will Modern Society Reject Religion? What is Secularism?" by Vexen Crabtree
Despite the low rate of belief in God, many Europeans still claim to belong to theistic religions. 49.5% of the population of Europe say they are Catholic Christian, 15.7% say they're Muslim, 12.7% say they're Protestant Christian, 8.6% say they're Orthodox Christian and 0.4% say they are Jewish8. These numbers mean that at least 30% of Europeans are putting down a religion despite not believing in the very basic first principal of the religion they put down. In some places, this percent is higher. In France only 52% of Catholic believe in God and "only 18 percent define God according to the teachings of the Catholic Church"9. This is all because most people in Europe confuse religion and cultural heritage, and for many the actual beliefs of a religion don't really matter. For a discussion of this, see: "Institutionalized Religions Have Their Numbers Inflated by National Polls" by Vexen Crabtree.
See:Religion in Europe.
2.2. Secularisation in the non-Western World
Some scholars say secularisation is a typically Western phenomenon10, with the implication being that it will not occur elsewhere. More discerning folk say that secularisation is limited to Protestant countries where individual choices came to be viewed as more important than communal worship. They make Europe out to be an "exceptional case"; however, there is growing evidence of secularisation in most parts of the world, and some countries such as Japan are even less religious that some European countries. In his survey of the research done into clergy and other castes of religious professionals, sociologist Dean R. Hoge reports that in Western nations in general (not just in Europe) the status of Christian clergy has been declining for 300 years both amongst Protestants and Catholics, as religious professionals are suffering from a gradual loss of perceived authority11. Hoge also notes that across Asia, Buddhist priests are also losing their authority12.
South America: Although it is easy to assume, if you will, that some of the areas where religion is rapidly expanding are areas where secularisation theory is being challenged, there are hints that suggest otherwise. The ballooning success of evangelical Protestantism in South America is one such area; Pentecostalism has had a massive and rapid success there. Yet sociologists, in conducting systematic surveys, have found that beneath the surface the increase in religiosity is unstable. A 1989 survey in Costa Rica found that 8.1% of the population who had once been Protestant had now moved on: 31% of them had stopped professing religion at all. And "in 1990, in Chile, only 48 per cent of a sample of self-identified Evangelicals (predominantly Pentecostals) attended church weekly and 38 per cent very seldom or never attended"13.
India: Signs of early secularization amongst India's Hindus includes the growth of informal 'do it yourself' omnipraxy and that religious icons are being produced increasingly unreligiously, whereas previous their production involved personal and ritualistic involvement14. Secularism and materialism are here seen hand in hand.
Japan is the example given by Steve Bruce (1996) as the prime non-Western country that is deep in the throes of secularisation15.
In the Islamic world, some scholars sometimes detect signs of secularisation even from within communities where any such thing is illegal to a deadly degree. In Morocco and Indonesia the studies of sociologist Clifford Geertz (in the 1960s) led him to declare that people are finding it harder and harder to employ religious symbols as representing "the deepest grain of reality"16. Richard Fenn comments that "Clearly Geertz fears that Indonesia shares the fate of a Western Christianity emptied of its monopoly of the sacred and he shows that religion in Indonesia is moving in the same direction"17. In many Islamic countries, politics is now the reserve of politicians rather than of religious councils18, although it appears to make little difference to the dominance of fundamentalist Islam in nearly every Islamic country. Places like Indonesia have, since those comments were made in the 1960s, fallen continually deeper into strict and violent Islamism.
3. The Defiers of Secularisation
The world is not secularising evenly. Academics can be found asking "is the situation best captured by secularization theory, or by the notion of resurgence of spirituality? By the decline in traditional religiosity, or by the upsurge of fundamentalism?"19. Some of the exceptions to secularisation (even in the developed world) are pronounced enough to count as evidence against Secularisation Theory. Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark condemns secularisation theory "to the graveyard of failed theories"20. Others (erroneously) believe it is only a European phenomenon21. We will respond to these arguments below, for example Steve Bruce points out Japan as an example of a non-Christian, non-European country that has also secularized extensively.
The USA still has a very high religiosity rate, as high as third-world countries, and is, with the possible exception of parts of Scandinavia the most advanced country in the world. So this is a serious exception that needs explaining. Most explanations have concentrated on the high level of immigration, something which tends to harden people's religions. See: Political Power Struggles and Identity Reinforcement: Why are People Religious?
The developing world is highly religious; there are countries and cultures that can hardly imagine what life without religion is like. Critics imagine that these countries will not lose their religious beliefs as they develop higher rates of education and technological development.
Sections of society within secular countries remain highly religious. The middle-ground believers are now swayed into areligiosity by the same inertia that used to lead them into religion. Now these are largely gone, what is left behind are the hardcore believers, who are both more vocal, more educated and more activist about their beliefs. These fanatical groups show no signs of dissipation. A report in The Economist (2007) reads: "It is the tougher versions of religion that are doing best - the sort that claim Adam and Eve met 6,003 years ago. Some of the new converts are from the ranks of the underprivileged (Pentecostalism has spread rapidly in the fevelas of Brazil), but many are not. American evangelicals tend to be well-educated and well-off"22.
The growth of New Religious Movements in secularized countries makes some doubt the depth of secularisation23. However, the numbers involved in NRMs are small in comparison to the numbers lost by world religions in the developed world, and their middling increase in numbers is simply part of the decentralisation process of religions24. It is just that the NRMs are often newsworthy, hence, have a higher profile.25
Some Muslim countries are modernizing without secularizing. In contrast, some of these states are seeing dwindling minority religions and increasing power of Islamic institutions26. Yet, the type of science accepted is often engineering and branches of science that lack teleological and theological implications. Evolution is, for example, still comprehensively rejected in all gulf states27. So we are not seeing a true adoption of modernism in these countries, just an uptake of pragmatism.
"Formerly communist countries are also getting hooked again on the opium of the people. Russia's secret police, the KGB, hounded religion: its successor, the FSB, has its own Orthodox church opposite its headquarters"22. Communism was once a heavy factor in the de-religionizing of large areas of the world.
In India an upsurge of Hindu nationalism is said by some to be presaging a trend against secularisation28, although others see this as further diminishing the value of religion in the minds of the general populace.
4. Secularisation Theory
Academics have noted that weekly attendance of religious events (going to Church, etc), as well as the opinion that religion is 'very important', are both at their highest in agrarian communities, and at their lowest in developed post-industrial societies29. My page Religion in the United Kingdom: Diversity, Trends and Decline page show examples and charts of what this long-term secularisation looks like, in terms of memberships, attendance and beliefs, etc.
“The three 'classical' sociological theorists, Marx, Durkheim and Weber [all] thought that the significance of religion would decrease in modern times. Each believed that religion is in a fundamental sense an illusion. The advocates of different faiths may be wholly persuaded of the validity of the beliefs they hold and the rituals in which they participate, yet the very diversity of religions and their obvious connections to different types of society, the three thinkers held, make these claims inherently implausible.”
"Sociology" by Anthony Giddens (1997)30
“There is a notion in the air about us that religion is probably only an anachronism, a case of "survival," an atavistic relapse into a mode of thought which humanity in its more enlightened examples has outgrown; and this notion our religious anthropologists at present do little to counteract. This view is so widespread at the present day that I must consider it with some explicitness before I pass to my own conclusions.”
"The Varieties of Religious Experience" by William James (1902) [Book Review]31
Moojan Momen (1999) says there are five ways of looking at secularisation:
"Decline of popular involvement in institutionalized religion. This can be seen in the decline in church attendance, with fewer marriages, baptisms and funerals being performed under religious auspices."
"The loss of prestige of religious institutions and symbols" and the decline in influence of religious organisations.
"The separation of society from the religious world, so that religion becomes purely personal matter."
The loss of the idea of the sacred. "As science increases our understanding of humanity and of the world, the area of 'mystery' and the supernatural decrease."
"Religious groups themselves become increasingly concerned with the things of this world rather than the spiritual world."
Point one is comprehensively illustrated on my page on statistics of religion in Britain. Point five is clearly illustrated by the reaction of modern religionists to secular advance: fundamentalists are much more engaged in the processes of politics than any other religious group in the West. Momen also notes that in Europe, secularisation came to the fore in the nineteenth century:
“Secularization has gradually permeated the Christian world. It led to the situation in which, by the nineteenth century, Christianity had ceased to have much real influence on the social and political life of Europe. The form was maintained, in that political leaders usually made a great show attending religious ceremonies and were often personally pious. Religion no longer had a role, however, in the shaping of political and social policy. Other considerations and other secular ideologies had taken over. Following the loss of social and political influence, religion became increasingly irrelevant to the lives of ordinary people also.”
"The Phenomenon Of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen (1999) [Book Review]32
Another sociologist of religion, in his survey of new religious movements, reported similar findings in modern countries and gives a partial explanation as to why this is occurring:
“Looking back over the past couple of centuries it would seem to be overwhelmingly evident that religious beliefs, practices and symbols are gradually being abandoned at all levels of modern society. [...] Central to this apparent decline of religion is religious pluralism. Communities in which people shared the same religious beliefs and morality [...] are rapidly disappearing. [...] In modern societies there are few shared values to which one can appeal. Believers are constantly aware that their faith is chosen from a spectrum of beliefs on offer. Consequently, beliefs that were once taken for granted as exclusively and absolutely true seem increasingly implausible.”
"Encyclopedia of New Religions" by Christopher Partridge (2004)33
4.2. The Causes of Secularisation
It would be ideal if definitions of Secularisation Theory mentioned the key forces that drive the social changes that lead to declines in religion. "Anti-Religious Forces: Specific Factors Fuelling Secularisation" by Vexen Crabtree (2011) is my comprehensive analysis of the historical and modern forces at work behind secularisation. Its menu is:
4.3. The Dalai Lama Defends Secularism as a Way to Respect All Religion
The Dalai Lama proved himself to have a good understanding of what secularism is when he defended it, in 2006, as a route to respect all religions through its doctrines of non-interference and non-promotion of any particular religions:
“DALAI LAMA SAYS SECULARISM IS THE TRUE ROUTE TO HAPPINESS
The Dalai Lama has come out in defence of secularism. Speaking in Tokyo, the Tibetan spiritual figurehead said: "Secularism does not mean rejection of all religions. It means respect for all religions and human beings including non-believers. I am talking to you not as a Tibetan or a Buddhist but as a human being having a friendly discussion and sharing my experiences on the benefits of cultivating basic human values."
In a lecture on "A Good Heart - The key to Health and Happiness" the Dalai Lama emphasises that cultivating secular ethics - which he said has nothing to do with religion - benefits all human beings. He said strengthening inner values of warm-heartedness and compassion benefits both believers and non-believers in leading a happy and meaningful life. He said, "Love and compassion attracts, hatred and anger repels. [...] Peace does not mean absence of conflicts. Differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; through humane ways," the Dalai Lama said amidst a thunderous applause.
Terry Sanderson, vice president of the National Secular Society, said: "It is not often that we can raise a cheer for a religious leader, but the Dalai Lama is sensible to say that a universal ethic is better than one based on religion. Secularism asks us to keep our religion to ourselves, which enables us as human beings to share what unites us rather than what divides us."”
National Secular Society, National Secular Society (2006)
4.4. S. Bruce Defends Secularisation Theory (1996)
Steve Bruce (1996)34 looks at the major comments made by those who do not believe that increasing secularisation is causing a decline in religious belief. "Despite the fuss made by a few sociologists keen to challenge the secularisation thesis, that consensus is very clear: our medieval past was considerably more religious than our modern present.". He looks at the assertion that although modern Church membership is plummeting "religious belief" is still just as strong and refutes it by showing the relevant stats, sociology and history.
The "trend is clear. Those marks of an enduring interest in religion that persist outside the churches are themselves becoming weaker and more rare. If one wants to call those residues 'implicit religion', then one has to recognize that the implicit is decaying in the same way as the explicit. It is not a compensating alternative".
He continues: "Secondly, it should be no surprise that, though there are more avowed atheists than there were twenty years ago, they remain rare. Self-conscious atheism and agnosticism are features of religious cultures and were at their height in the Victorian era. They are postures adopted in a world where people are keenly interested in religion".
5. SeculariSation, or SeculariZation?
In English, we can use either -ise or -ize. Although in American secularization is exclusively spelt with a 'z', in English we use both.
“In English there is no conflict between words that end in ize or ization versus those that end in ise or isation. The -ize spelling is the original British English ending and predates -ise by up to hundreds of years. Nowadays it is called Oxford Spelling and is used extensively by Oxford University Press and the OED. Cambridge University Press have the opposite stance and consider -ise to be the norm. Historically, English has seen both variants used in abundance. In American, the "ize" ending is proscribed however in standard English. neither one is incorrect.”
"isation and ise, versus ization and ize" by Vexen Crabtree (1999)
Bryan Wilson (British, the intellectual father of secularisation theory) used the -z spelling throughout his "Religion in Secular Society" (1966) and other writings. Although his obituary in The Guardian (2004 Nov 02) consistently spelt it secularisation with an s. So, the choice is yours!
6. Civil 'Religion' and Secularisation
Civil religion describes a form of religious nationalism; sometimes it is clearly designed in order to control the people, but sometimes it is a genuine development amongst the citizenry. It is often described in terms other than religion, but, many sociologists have noted the similarity to religion, both in terms of ritual and behaviour, and expressed emotions and justification for its existence. In his mystical concentration on the concept of the 'sacred', Richard K. Fenn explains in his chapter on Catherine Bell that as organized religion disappears, civil practices become even freer to develop:
“The more that religion is unable to control the sacred, the more the sacred may thrive in a wide range of ritualized forms and activities. Bell (1997: 201) is very clear that ritualized forms of the sacred may flourish in a society that is secular, in the sense that the sacred is no longer dominated, defined, or integrated by any particular set of religious beliefs or practices. 'The more widely shared rituals will be only vaguely religious, giving rise to a vast body of 'civic' rituals that include pledging, allegiance to the flag... [...] this type of secular society is also likely to emphasize moral-ethical commands over religious duties, even within the different religious subgroups, in part because moral-ethical injunctions are sufficiently abstract, universal ...' ”
"Key Thinkers in the Sociology of Religion"
Richard K. Fenn (2009) [Book Review]35
Most activist secular groups tend to emerge from anti-religious groups, which creates a skewed battlefield where it appears that secularists oppose religion in general, when this isn't necessarily the case (the Dalai Lama (see above) is a case in point). Hopefully, secularisation can be seen as the only way to guarantee religious freedom in a world where competing religions would otherwise lay claim to the State's education systems, etc, and inhibit freedom. A secular world guarantees maximum religious freedom, free of public religious coercion.
Current edition: 2008 Nov 30
Last Modified: 2016 Oct 19
Second edition 2006 Aug 04
Originally published 2002 Aug 23
Parent page: Human Religions
Definitions of Secularisation Theory: Why is Religion Declining?
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References: (What's this?)
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper..
(2001, Ed.) From Sacred Text to Internet. Paperback book. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. This was a course book for the OU module "Religion Today: Traditional, Modernity and Change" which ran until 2011.
Bowman, Herbert & Mumm
(2009) Religion Today: Tradition, Modernity and Change: Course Introduction. 2nd edition. Originally published 2001. Part of the Open University religious studies module AD317.
(1996) Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults. Paperback book. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Clarke, Peter B.. Peter B. Clarke: Professor Emeritus of the History and Sociology of Religion, King's College, University of London, and currently Professor in the Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford, UK.
(2011) The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion. Paperback book. Originally published 2009. Current version published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
(2011) "Anti-Religious Forces: Specific Factors Fuelling Secularisation" (2011). Accessed 2017 Aug 08.
(2015) "Religion in Europe" (2015). Accessed 2017 Aug 08.
D'Antonio, W. V., Davidson, J.D., Hoge, D.R., and Guatier, M.L.
(2007) . American Catholics Today. Published by Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., USA. In "The Sociology of the Clergy" by Dean R. Hoge (2011).
(2011) The Meaning and Scope of Secularization. This essay is chapter 33 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages p599-615).
Draper, John William. (1811-1882)
(1881) History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science. E-book. 8th (Amazon Kindle digital edition) edition. Published by D. Appleston and Co, New York, USA.
Fenn, Richard K.
(2009) Key Thinkers in the Sociology of Religion. Paperback book. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, London, UK. A look at what 11 sociologists of religion think of "the sacred". Be warned that Fenn's book contains one chapter on each sociologist of religion but that his own mystical and specific take on 'the sacred' is heavily intermingled with his commentary - see the book review for a proper description. Book Review.
(2009) Religiosity. gallup.com/poll/142727/.... The survey question was "Is religion an important part of your daily life?" and results are charted for those who said "yes". 1000 adults were polled in each of 114 countries.
(1997) Sociology. Hardback book. 3rd edition. Originally published 1989. Current version published by Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers Ltd. The Amazon link is to a newer version..
Hefner, Robert W.
(2011) Religion and Modernity Worldwide. This essay is chapter 8 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages 152-171).
Hoge, Dean R.. Was Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the Catholic University of America, Washington, USA.
(2011) The Sociology of the Clergy. This essay is chapter 32 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages p581-596).
IHEU. International Humanist and Ethical Union.
(2012) Freedom of Thought. A copy can be found on iheu.org/...Freedom of Thought 2012.pdf, accessed 2013 Oct 28.
James, William. (1842-1910)
(1902) The Varieties of Religious Experience. Paperback book. Subtitled: "A Study in Human Nature". 5th (1971 fifth edition) edition. Originally published 1960. From the Gifford Lectures delivered at Edinburgh 1901-1902. Quotes also obtained from Amazon digital Kindle 2015 Xist Publishing edition. Book Review.
Lynn, Harvey & Nyborg
(2009) Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations. Richard Lynn, John Harvey and Helmuth Nyborg article "Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations" in Intelligence (2009 Jan/Feb) vol. 37 issue 1 pages 11-15. Online at www.sciencedirect.com, accessed 2009 Sep 15.
(1999) The Phenomenon Of Religion: A Thematic Approach. Paperback book. Published by Oneworld Publications, Oxford, UK. Book Review.
Norris, Pippa & Ronald Inglehart
(2004) . "Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide". Published by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
NSS. The National Secular Society, London, UK.
Newsline. Weekly news letter. See: "Secularism" by Vexen Crabtree (2011).
(1998) "The Helmet and the Turban: Secularization in Islam". In R. Laermands, B. Wilson & J. Billiet (eds.), Secularization and Social Integration p165-175. Published by Leuven University Press. Cited in Dobbelaere (2011) p611.
(2004, Ed.) Encyclopedia of New Religions. Hardback book. Published by Lion Publishing, Oxford, UK.
(1999) "Secularization, R.I.P.". Article published in Sociology of Religion, edition 60, pages 249-73. In Dobbelaere (2011) p599.
Wenzel, Nikolai G.
(2011) Postmodernism and Religion. This essay is chapter 9 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages p172-193).
(1966) Religion in Secular Society. Paperback book. 1st edition. Published by Penguin Books.
(2002, Ed.) Global Religious Movements in Regional Context. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. This was a religious studies textbook in the AD317 OU course.
- "Handbook of Denominations" published by the National Council of Churches. I did not record what edition contained this quote; I had obtained it by 2002 Aug.^
- The Encyclical Letter published by the Roman Catholic Church dated 1864 Dec 08 was a reaction against tolerance for other religons and against the rising power of democracy, which was threatening the RCC's ability to enforce its doctrine in the countries of Europe. "It was drawn up by learned ecclesiastics, and subsequently debated at the Congregation of the Holy Office, then forwarded to prelates, and finally gone over by the pope and cardinals". Commentary and quotes obtained from Draper (1881) p332-333.^
- Added to this page on 2013 Jun 10.^
- Zuckerman, P. (2007). Atheism: contemporary numbers and patterns. In M.Martin (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Atheism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. In "Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations" by Lynn et al. (2009).^
- Gallup (2009) .^
- IHEU (2012) p9. Added to this page on 2014 Jul 25.^
- "Eurobarometer 225: Social values, Science & Technology". Published by Eurostat (2005) for the European Commission. Accessed 2008 Sep 01.^
- National Secular Society newsletter (2007 Mar 02), which included commentary on a Eurostat (2007) publication.^
- Wenzel (2011) p185.^
- Dobbelaere (2011) p611. Added to this page on 2016 Aug 01.^
- Added to this page on 2013 Jun 10. As discovered by vertical sociological investigation (D'Antonio et al. 2007).^
- Hoge (2011) p592. Added to this page on 2013 Jun 10.^
- Wolffe (2002) p79. Source for Costa Rice and Chile stats. Added to this page on 2011 Jun 19.^
- Beckerlegge (2001) p87-88.^
- Wilson (1966) p14.^
- Geertz, Clifford (1968) "Islam Observed". The Terry Luctures. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. In "Key Thinkers in the Sociology of Religion" by Richard K. Fenn (2009) [Book Review] chapter "Clifford Geertz" p191-2. Added to this page on 2012 Nov 14.^
- Fenn (2009) chapter "Clifford Geertz" p191-2. Added to this page on 2012 Nov 14.^
- Dobbelaere (2011) p611, citing Pace (1998) who demonstrates this change began in the late nineteenth century and which gained momentum in the 1950s. The secularist revolutions of Ataturk and the Ba'th party in Syria and Iraq unfortunately led to severe long-lasting fundamentalist resurgences. Added to this page on 2016 Aug 01.^
- Wenzel (2011) p172. Added to this page on 2016 Aug 02.^
- Stark (1999).^
- For example see "Public Religions in the Modern World" by the American sociologist Jose Casanova (1994). He argues that secularization is a unique aspect of western Europe. Published by Chicago University Press. In "Religion Today: Tradition, Modernity and Change: Course Introduction" by Bowman, Herbert & Mumm (2009) p75.^
- The Economist (2007 Nov 03) insert "A special report on religion and public life" p4.^
- Partridge (2004) on p359 of his book on new religious movements says "the weight of evidence seems to favour the general thesis that religion is so psychologically and socially bound up with the human condition that it is unlikely ever to disappear". Added to this page on 2015 Jan 15.^
- Bowman, Herbert & Mumm (2009) p73.^
- Added to this page on 2012 Dec 15. Paragraph on New Religious Movements added.^
- Bowman, Herbert & Mumm (2009) p70-80. References p267 of Stark, R. (1999) "Secularization R.I.P.", Sociology of Religion, vol.60, no.3, pp.249-73.^
- The Economist (2009 Feb 07) article "Evolution: Unfinished business".^
- Heffner (2011) . Added to this page on 2016 Oct 19.^
- Dobbelaere (2011) p612, citing Norris & Inglehart (2004). Added to this page on 2016 Aug 25.^
- Giddens (1997) p441.^
- James (1902) p468-469.^
- Momen (1999) chapter 19 "Religion in the Modern World" p480.^
- Partridge (2004) p358.^
- Bruce (1996) p56-58.^
- Fenn (2009) Chapter "Catherine Bell" p218. Added to this page on 2013 Jun 10.^
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Assess the nature and extent of secularisation in society today
Sociologist Crockett (1998) looked at evidence of the 1851 census of religious worship; he estimates that in year 40% of the British population attended church on Sundays. This is a much higher figure then today, and this has led sociologists to argue the 19th century was a golden age of religiosity. Since 1851 there have been major changes in religion in the UK. There has been a decline in the proportion of the population going to church, an increase in the average age of church goers, fewer baptisms and church weddings, a decline in the numbers holding traditional Christian beliefs and greater religious diversity, including more non Christian religions.
Bryan Wilson (1966) argues that western society has been undergoing a long term process of secularisation. Wilson defined secularisation as “the process whereby religious beliefs, practices and institutions loose significance”. For example church attendance in England fell from 40% in 1850 to 10-15% in 1960. Church weddings, baptisms and Sunday school attendance has also declined. This has led Wilson to argue Britain has become a secular society.
The trends Wilson identified have continued. Only 6.3% of the adult population attended church on Sundays in 2005. This means that church going has halved since Wilsons study in the 1960s, and it is also projected to fall further to 4.7% by 2015. Sunday school attendance has continually declined and now only a tiny proportion of children attend. The English church census (2006) shows attendance and membership of large religious organisations, such as the Church of England and Catholic Church have declined more than small organisations. Some small organisations have remained stable or even grown. However the growth of these small organisations hasn’t made up the short fall for the amount of members lost from the large institutions, thus the overall trend is still one of decline. Church weddings and baptisms remain more popular then Sunday church attendance, however the trend is also downwards. In 1971, three-fifths of weddings were in church but by 2006 this was only a third. Baptisms of children fell from 55% in 1991 to 41% in 2005.
Evidence from 60 years of opinion polls and attitude surveys show that more people claim they hold Christian beliefs then actually belong of go to church. Religious belief is declining in line with the decline in church attendance and membership. Robin Gill et al (1998) reviewed almost 100 national surveys on religious belief from 1939 to 1996. They show significant decline in belief in a personal god, in Jesus as the son of god and traditional teachings about the afterlife and the bible. When the survey asked “would you describe yourself as being of any religion or denomination?” 23% replied no in 1950, however by 1996 this increased to 43%.
The influence of religion as a social institution has also declined. The church does have influence on public life, with 26 Church of England bishops sitting in the House of Lords. However since the 19th century religious influence has declined. The state has taken over many functions that the church used to perform. Thus where once religion intruded in every aspect of life it’s been increasingly relegated to the private sphere of the individual and the family. For example, until the 1850s churches provided education, though since then in mostly been provided by the state. The remaining faith schools are subject to state funding and must conform to state regulations, such as teaching the national curriculum. There is legal requirement for schools to provide a daily act of collective worship or a “broadly Christian character”; however the BBC found that 50% of secondary schools in Wales failed to comply with this. One measure of the institutional weakness of the church is the number of clergy, which fell from 45 000 in 1900 to 34 000 in 2000, at a time when the population has almost doubled in size. If it had kept pace with the population growth the number of clergy would be 80 000. A lack of clergy in local communities means the day to day influence of the church is reduced.
Steve Bruce agrees with Wilson that the evidence on secularisation has been pointing in the same direction for many years and that religious beliefs are in irreversible decline. Bruce predicts if current trends continue, by 2030 the Methodist church will fold and the Church of England will have become a small voluntary organisation with large amounts of heritage property.
Sociologists have attempted to explain the process of secularisation. A common theme is modernisation; which is the decline of religion and its replacement by science and rational ways of thinking that undermines religion. Secularisation theory also emphasises the effect of social change on religion. For example industrialisation led to the breakup of small communities that were held together by common religious belief. Another theme in explaining secularisation is the growth of social and religious diversity. People are becoming more diverse in terms of occupational and cultural backgrounds, but also religious institutions are much more varied. Secularisation theorists argue the growth of diversity has undermined the authority of religious institutions and credibility of religious beliefs. As a result these changes religious practice such as church going has declined.
Rationalisation refers to the process where rational ways of thinking and acting replace religious ones. Many sociologists argue that western society have undergone a process of rationalisation in the last few centuries. Max Weber (1905) argues the protestant reformation begun by Martin Luther in the 16th century started a process of rationalisation of life in the west. This process undermined the religious worldview of the middle ages and replaced it with the rational scientific outlook found in modern society. Weber argues the medieval Catholic worldview that dominated Europe saw the world as an “enchanted garden”. God and other spiritual beings and forces, like angels, were believed to be present and active in the world and they could change the course of events through their supernatural powers. Humans could try to influence these beings and forces by magical means such as spells and prayers in order to ensure good harvest, protection against disease ect.
However the protestant reformation brought a new world view. Instead of an interventionist god of medieval Catholicism, Protestantism saw gods and transcendent; existing outside and beyond the world. Although god created the world he didn’t intervene in it but left it to run accordingly. Thus events were no longer explained as the work of unpredictable supernatural beings, but of the predictable workings of natural forces. Only rationality, the power of reason, was needed to understand them. Using reason and science humans discovered laws of nature understand and predict how the world works and control it through technology. Thus there was no longer need for religious explanation of the world as the world was no longer an enchanted garden. Weber argues the protestant reformation was the beginning of the disenchantment of the world. It’s taken out religious and magical ways of thinking and started the rationalisation process that led to the dominance of rational mode of thought. It enabled science to thrive and provide a base for technological advances that give humans more power to control nature. This further undermines the religious world view.
Bruce argues that the growth of technological worldview has largely replaced religious or supernatural explanations of why things happen. For example when a plane crashes with the loss of lives, were unlikely to regard it the work of evil spirits or god’s punishment. We instead look for scientific and technological explanations. A technological worldview leaves little room for religious explanation in day to day life. Religious explanation only survives where technological world view is least effective, for example we pray for people with an illness that scientific medicine can’t cure. Bruce concludes that although scientific explanations don’t challenge religion directly, they have reduced the scope for religious explanation. Scientific knowledge itself doesn’t make people into atheists, though its worldview encourages people to take religion less seriously.
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 single institution. Parsons argues this has happened to religion, it dominated in preindustrial society but with industrialisation it became a smaller, more specialised institution. Parsons argues structural differentiation leads to disengagement of religion. Its functions are transferred to other institutions such as the state and it becomes disconnected from wider society. For example the church looses influence it once had on education, social welfare and the law. Bruce agrees religion has become separated from wider society and has lost many of its former functions. It’s become privatised and confined to the private sphere of the home and family. Religious beliefs are now a matter of personal choice and religious institutions have lost much of their influence on wider society. Thus traditional symbols and rituals have lost meaning. Even where religion continues to perform functions such as education or social welfare it must conform to the requirements of the secular state. For example teachers in faith school must hold qualifications that are recognised by the state. The church and state also tend to become separated in modern society. Modern states increasingly accept religion is a personal choice and thus the state should not identify with a particular faith.
The move from pre industrial to industrial society about the decline of community and this contributes to the decline of religion. Wilson argues in pre industrial communities shared values were expressed through 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 hold over individuals. Similarly Bruce sees industrialisation as undermining the consensus of religious belief in close knit small rural communities. These small communities give way to large urban loose knit urban communities with diverse beliefs and values. Social and geographical mobility not only break up communities but bring people together from many different backgrounds, creating more diversity. Diversity of occupations, cultures and lifestyles undermine religion. Even where people continue to hold religious beliefs they can’t avoid knowing that those around them hold different views. Bruce argues the plausibility of beliefs is undermined by alternatives. It’s also undermined by individualism because the plausibility 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 religious belief and practice tend to decline.
However the view that the decline of community causes the decline of religion has been criticised. Aldridge argues that a community doesn’t have to be in a particular are, for example religion can be a source of identity on a worldwide scale. This is true for Jewish, Muslim and Hindu communities. He also argues some religious communities are imagined communities who interact through the global media. He also points out that Pentecostal and other religious groups often flourish in impersonal urban areas.
Berger (1969) argues that another cause of secularisation is the trend towards religious diversity where instead of there being only one religious organisation and only one interpretation of faith, there are many. In the middle ages the Catholic Church held an absolute monopoly and had no competition. Thus everyone lived under a single set of beliefs shared by all. It gave these beliefs greater plausibility as they had no challengers and the churches version of the truth went unquestioned. However this all changed during the protestant reformation, where protestant churches and sects broke away from the Catholic Church in the 16th century. Since the reformation the number and variety of religious organisations has continued to grow, each claiming a different version of the truth. With the arrival of religious diversity no church could claim an unchallenged monopoly of truth. Thus society is no longer unified by shared beliefs provided by one church. Religious diversity creates a plurality of life worlds, where people’s perceptions of the world vary and there are different interpretations of the truth. Berger argues this creates a crisis of credibility for religion. Diversity undermines religions plausibility structure; the reasons why people find it believable. When there are alternative versions of the truth available, people question all of them and this erodes the certainties of traditional religion. Religious beliefs become relative rather than absolute; what is true or false becomes a personal point of view and it creates the possibility of opting out of religion all together. Bruce sees the trend towards religious diversity as the most important cause of secularisation. He argues it’s impossible to treat a large number of incompatible beliefs equally, without concluding that there is no one truth.
However, Bruce has identified two counter trends that go against secularisation theory. Both involve higher than average levels of religious participation. One of the counter trends is cultural defence, where religion provides a focal point for the defence of national, ethic, or local group identity in a struggle against an external force such as a hostile foreign power. For example the popularity of Catholicism in Poland before the collapse of soviet rule and the resurgence of Islam before the 1979 revolution. The second counter trend is cultural transition; where religion provides support and 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 in the USA. Religion has performed similar functions for Irish, African Caribbean, Muslim and Hindu migrants in the UK. However Bruce argues that religion survives in such situations as it acts as a source of group identity. Thus these examples don’t disprove secularisation but show that religion is likely to survive longer where it performs other functions other then relating individuals to the super natural. There is evidence to support Bruce’s conclusion, for example church going declined in Poland after the fall of communism and there’s evidence religion looses importance wants migrants have integrated into a society.
However Berger (1999) has now changed his views and argues that diversity and choice stimulate interest and participation in religion. For example the growth of evangelicalism in Latin America and the new Christian right in the USA point to continual vitality of religion, and not its decline. Beckford (2003) agrees with the idea that religious diversity will lead some to question and abandon beliefs, however this is not inevitable. Opposing views can have the effect of strengthening a religious group’s commitment to existing beliefs rather than undermining them.
Some sociologists argue that a spiritual revolution is taking place today, where traditional Christianity is giving way to holistic spirituality or new age beliefs and practices that emphasise personal development and subjective experience. Increased interest in spirituality can be seen can be seen in the growth of a spiritual market. There’s been an explosion in the number of books about self help and spirituality and the many practitioners who offer consultations, courses and therapies, ranging from meditation to crystal healing.
Heelas and Woodhead conducted a study in Kendal to investigate whether traditional religion had declined, and if so how far the growth of spirituality has compensated for this. They distinguish between two groups; the congregational domain of traditional and evangelical Christianity and the holistic milieu of spirituality and the new age. They found in 2000, in a typical week 7.9% of the population attended church and 1.6% took part in the activities of holistic milieu. However within the congregational domain the traditional churches were losing support while evangelical churches were holding members fairly well. Although fewer were involved in the holistic milieu it was growing. Heelas and Woodhead offer explanation for these trends. One explanation is that new age spirituality has grown because of a massive subjective turn in today’s culture involving a shift away from the idea of doing your duty and obeying external authority to exploring your inner self by following a spiritual path. Another explanation is the result of traditional religions, which demand duty and obedience, are declining. Heels and Woodhead argue religion tells you what to believe is out of tune with a culture that encourages us to look for answers ourselves. A third explanation is that evangelical churches are more successful than traditional churches; they both demand discipline and duty though the evangelicals emphasise importance of spiritual healing and personal growth through the experience of being born again. Thus in the spiritual market place the winners are those who appeal to personal experience as a source of meaning, rather then received teachings and commandments of traditional religion. However Heelas and Woodhead argue that a spiritual revolution has not taken place. Although holistic milieu has grown since the 1970s its growth has not compensated for the decline of traditional religion. Thus they conclude secularisation is occurring in Britain as the subjective turn has undermined the basis of traditional religion.
In 1962 Wilson found that 45% of Americans attended church on Sundays. However he argued that church going in America was more of an expression of the American way of life than of deeply held religious beliefs. Wilson claimed that America was a secular society, not because people had abandoned churches, but because religion had become superficial.
Opinion poll research asking people about church attendance suggests there stable attendance of 40% of the population since 1940. However Kirk Hadaway (1993) found that this didn’t match the churches own attendance statistics. If 40% of Americans were going to church, the churches would be full, however they were not. Hadaway studied church attendance in Ashtabula, Ohio. He counted people attending churches and conducted interviews asking people if they attended church. He found the level of church attendance claimed by interviewees was 83% higher than their estimates of church attendance in the county. There’s further evidence that the tendency to exaggerate church going is a recent development. Until the 1970s findings of opinion polls match church estimates, however since then the attendance gap has widened. For example a study of attendance of catholic mass in San Francisco found in 1972 opinion polls exaggerated attendance by 47%; however by 1996 this exaggeration doubled to 101%. Thus Bruce concludes that a stable rate of self reported attendance of about 40% has masked a decline in actual attendance in the USA. The widening gap may be due to the fact that it seen as socially desirable to go to church, thus people who have stopped going will say they attend if asked in a survey.
Bruce argues that the way American religion has adjusted to the modern world is though secularisation from within. The emphasis on traditional Christian beliefs and glorying god has declined and religion in America has become psychologised or turned into a form of therapy. This change enabled it to fit with a secular society. Thus American 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 is seen in people attitudes and lifestyles. Church goers are now less strict in traditional religious morality, for example in 1951 77% of Americans saw playing cards as morally wrong, however by 1982 0% agreed with this.
The growth of religious diversity has also contributed to secularisation from within. Churchgoers are becoming less dogmatic in 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 different to their own. For example Lynd (1929) found in 1924 94% of church going young people agreed with the statement “Christianity is the one true religion and all people should be converted to it”. However by 1977 only 41% agreed. The counterpart to practical relativism is the erosion of absolutism where we now live in a society where many people hold views different to our own, which undermines our assumptions that our own views are absolutely true.
However, some sociologist’s rejects secularisation theory and reject that religion will inevitably decline in modern society. They put forward arguments that religion is changing rather declining and these changes are due to shifts in society for example the shift from modern to post modern society and greater individualism.
Grace Davie (2007) argues that religion isn’t declining but taking a different, privatised form. For example she argues people no longer go to church because they no longer feel they have to. Thus although church going has declined it’s because of a matter of personal choice then obligation to attend. Thus we now have believing without belonging, where people hold religious beliefs but don’t go to church. Thus Davie argues the decline of traditional religion is met by the growth of new forms of religion.
Davie notes a trend to vicarious religion, where a small number of professional clergy practise religion on behalf of a larger number of people, who experience it at second hand. This pattern is typical of northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia. In these societies despite low Church attendance people still use the church for rites of passage, for example, baptisms, weddings and funeral. Reginald Bibby (1993) found in Canada only 25% attended Sunday church. However 80% said they had religious belief, identified positively with religious tradition and turned to religion for rites of passage. Although they seldom went to church they were still interested in the supernatural. Davie compares vicarious religion to the tip of an iceberg and sees it as evidence of believing without belonging. Beneath what appears to be only a small commitment to religion is really a much wider commitment. It can be seen when people are drawn to church at times of national tragedy, for example following the death of Princess Diana. This is true for individuals and families when they face tragedy and loss. Those involved may not normally go to church and pray but they’re attached to the church as an institution providing ritual and support. Davie argues that secularisation theory affects every society in the same way, causing the decline of religion and its replacement by science. Davie rejects this; instead if there being a single version of modern society, there are multiple modernities. For example Britain and America are modern societies but with different religious patterns. For example church attendance is high in America but low in Britain, however there is still believing without belonging. Davie rejects that religion will be replaced by science. She believes religion will always continue to exist.
However, Voas and Crockett (200%) reject Davie’s view of believing without belonging. Evidence from British social attitude surveys from 1983 to 1000 show both church attendance and belief in god is declining. If Davie were right we would see higher levels of belief. Bruce adds if people aren’t willing to invest time in going to church then this reflects the declining strengths of their beliefs. When people no longer believe they no longer wish to belong, thus involvement in religion diminishes.
Danielle Hervieu-leger (2000) agrees there’s been decline of institutional religion in Europe with fewer people attending church. She argues this is because of cultural amnesia; the loss of collective memory. Previously children would be taught religion in the extended family and church. However nowadays we have lost the religion that used to be handed down from generation to generation as fewer parents teach their children about religion. Parents now let children decide for themselves what to believe. Also the trend towards greater social equality has undermined the traditional power of the church to impose religion on people from above. Thus young people no longer inherit fixed religious identity and are ignorant of traditional religion. However while traditional institutional religion has declined religion itself hasn’t disappeared. Instead individual consumerism has replaced collective religion. People today now feel they have choice as consumers of religion and have become spiritual shoppers. Religion has become individualised with do it yourself beliefs that give meanings to our lives and fit with our interests and aspirations. Religion has thus become a personal spiritual journey in which we choose elements we want to explore and groups we want to join. Thus Hervieu-Leger argues two new religious types are emerging. Pilgrims follow an individual path for self discovery, for example joining new age groups or through individual therapy. The demand is created by today’s emphasis on personal development. Converts join religious groups that offer a strong sense of belonging that’s usually based on shared ethnic background or religious doctrine. Such groups recreate a sense of community in a society that’s lost religious tradition. Examples are evangelical churches and churches of ethnic minorities. As a result of these trends religion no longer acts as a collective source of identity it once did. However Hervieu-Leger notes religion does continue to have influence on some of society’s values. For example values of human rights and equality have roots in religion. These values can be a source of shared cultural identity and social solidarity, even for those not actively involved in religion. Hervieu-Legers views can be related to the idea of late modernity. This is the notion that in recent decades some trends in modern society has accelerated, for example the decline of tradition and increasing individualism. It explains the weakening of traditional institutions like the church and the growing importance in individual choice in matters of religion.
David Lyon (2000) agrees that believing without belonging is increasingly popular. He argues that traditional religion is giving way to a new variety of religious forms that demonstrate its continuing vigour. He explains this in terms of a shift in recent decades from modern to post modern society. Lyon argues post modern society has features changing the nature of religion these include globalisation, increased importance of the media and the growth of consumerism.
Globalisation is the growing interconnectedness of societies, which has led to increased movements of ideas and beliefs across nations. This is due to the central role of the media in post modern society which compresses time and space to give access to beliefs previously remote to regions and religions. These ideas have become disembedded; the media lift them out of their original local context and move them to a different place and time. For example the electronic church and televangelism dissembled religion from real local religions and relocate it to the internet, allowing members to express faith without attending church. Lyon describes a harvest day crusade held not in church but at Disney land; it shows how boundaries between different areas of social life become blurred in post modern society. Thus religion becomes deinstitionalised. Signs and images become detached and removed from the original location of the church to cyberspace. They become a cultural resource people can adapt for their own purposes.
Postmodern society involves the growth of consumerism and the idea we now construct our identities through what we choose to consumeHervieu0Leger argues this is true of religion where we act as spiritual shoppers picking and choosing religious beliefs and practices that meet our individual needs from what’s available in the religious marketplace. We no longer are confined to one religion; we can pick and mix parts of faiths to construct our identity. Lyon argues religion has relocated to the sphere of consumption. While people have ceased involvement in religious organisations they haven’t abandoned religion. Instead they become religious consumers making conscious choices about which elements of religion they find useful. For example American Christian fundamentalist Nancy Ammerman (1987) study found a family made use of different churches without giving strong loyalty to one. For example they had service at Methodist but took their children to Baptist for Sunday school. One affect of having a variety of religious products is the loss of faith in metanarratives; theories claiming the absolute truth which involve traditional religions. Now that people have access to a wide range of contradictory beliefs it weakens the claims of traditional religion as exposure to competing versions of the truth make people sceptical whether any one of them is true. Thus previously dominant religious organisations and traditions loose authority and decline. In their place new religious movements appear which consumers can sample.
Lyon criticises secularisation theory for assuming that religion is declining and being replaced by a scientific worldview. Contrary to Weber’s prediction of increasing rationalisation and disenchantment of the world, Lyon sees the past three decades as a period of reenchantment, with the growth of unconventional beliefs, practices and spirituality. Although traditional religion has declined, especially in Europe Lyon points to the vitality of non traditional religion in the west and its resurgence elsewhere in the world.
Postmodernists claim the growth of religious media and the electronic church is evidence against secularisation theory. However research shows that people who choose to view programs that confirm their existing beliefs, thus religious media doesn’t attract new converts. Lyon criticises the evidence used by secularisation theorists such as church attendance statistics. However the alternatives he puts forward such as the electronic church are not based on extensive evidence. Bruce argues the consumerist religion that Lyon describes is weak religion; it has little effect on the lives of its adherents. Thus he sees its rise as evidence of secularisation and not the continuing vitality of religion.
Stark and Bainbridge (1985) are critical of secularisation theory, calling it euro centric. They argue it focuses on decline in Europe and not vitality in America and elsewhere. They argue it put forwards a distorted view of past and future; they argue there was no golden age of religion in the past and it’s not realistic to predict a future end for religion where everyone will be atheist. Instead Stark and Bainbridge argue for religious market theory. This theory is based on two assumptions; people are naturally religious and religion meets human need, thus the overall demand for religion is constant even though demands for particular types of religion vary. The second assumption is that it’s human nature to seek rewards and avoid costs. When people make choices they weigh up costs and benefits of the different options available. Stark and Bainbridge argue religion is attractive because it provides us with compensators. When real rewards are scarce and unobtainable religion compensates by providing supernatural ones. For example immortality is unobtainable but religion compensates by promising life after death. Only religion provides such compensators; non religion ideologies such as humanism don’t provide credible compensators as they don’t provide supernatural rewards.
As an alternative to secularisation theory, which sees a process of continuous decline, Stark and Bainbridge argue the concept of a cycle of religious decline, revival and renewal. They argue this cycle is evident in history with some religions declining and others growing. For example when established churches decline they leave a gap in the market for sects to attract new followers. Thus secularisation theory is one sided; it sees decline but ignores the growth of new religions and religious revivals. Stark and Bainbridge argue churches operate like companies selling goods in a market. Where secularisation theory sees competition between different religious organisations as undermining religion, religious market theorists take the opposite view. They argue competition leads to improvements in the quality of religious goods on offer. Churches that make their product attractive will succeed in attracting more customers while churches unresponsive to members needs will lose members.
Stark and Bainbridge argue the demand for religion increases when there are different sorts to choose from, because consumers can find one that meets their needs. By contrast, where there is a religious monopoly, one church with no competition it leads to decline. This is because without competition a church has no incentive to provide people with what they want. This is why Stark and Bainbridge believe religion thrives in America as there has never been a religious monopoly there. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the separation of church and state and there has always been a variety of dominations to choose from. This encourages the growth of a healthy religious market where religions decline or grow according to consumer demand. However the situation in Europe in entirely different. Most European countries have been dominated by official state church which had a religious monopoly such as the Church of England. Competition has been held back and lack of choice has led to decline. Stark and Bainbridge conclude the main factor influencing level of religious participation is not the demand for religion as secularisation theory suggests but the supply. Participation increases when there is an ample supply of religious groups to choose from but declines when supply is restricted. Based on comparisons of America and Europe stark and Bainbridge argue the decline of religion is not universal trend happening in all societies as secularisation theory suggests.
A range of studies support Stark and Bainbridge’s view that the demand for religion is influenced by the variety of religions on offer and the extent to which it responds to people needs. For example Hadden and Shupe (1998) argue the growth of televangelism in America shows that the level of religious participation is supply led. When commercial broadcasts began in the 1960s it opened up competition in which evangelical churches thrived. As a commercial enterprise televangelism responded to consumer demand by preaching a prosperity gospel. Finke (1997) argues the lifting of restriction on Asian immigration into America in the 1960s allowed religions such as the hare Krishna to set up permanently in the usa, so Asian faiths became another option that proved popular with consumers in the religious market place. Another example is the growth of evangelical mega churches; churches with a congregation of 2000 members or more. With such large congregations the church has lavish resources to meet diverse needs of members. Miller (1997) compares them to hyper markets. Stark (1990) argues Japan is another society where free market religion has stimulated participation. Until 1945 Shintoism was the state religion and other religions were suppressed. However after world war two religions was deregulated creating a market in which new religions such as Soka Gakkai thrived. Japans experiences contrast to post war Germany where religion was controlled by the state and as a result declined.
However religious market theory has been criticised. Bruce rejects the view that diversity and competition increase the demand for religion. Statistics show that diversity has been accompanied by religious decline in both Europe and America. Bruce argues Stark and Bainbridge misrepresent secularisation theory. The theory doesn’t claim there was a past golden age of religion or that everyone will become atheists. It simply claims religion is in long term decline. Nor does it claim secularisation universal; just in Europe and America. Norris and Inglehart (2004) show high levels of religious participation exist in catholic countries where the church has a near monopoly such as Venezuela and Ireland. Contrastingly countries with religious pluralism such as Australia and Holland have low levels of participation. This contradicts stark and Bainbridge’s theory. Beckford criticises religious market theory as unsociological as it assumes people are naturally religious and fails to explain why people make the choices that they do.
Norris and Inglehart (2004) reject religious market theory on the grounds that it only applies to America and fails to explain the variations of religiosity between different societies. For example international studies of religion have found no evidence of the link between religious choice and religious participation that stark and Bainbridge claim exist. Norris and Inglehart argue that the reason for variations in religiosity between societies is not different degrees of religious choice but different degrees of existential security. This is the feeling that survival is secure enough that it can be taken for granted. Religion meets a need for security and thus societies where people feel secure have a low level demand for religion. In poor societies where people face life threatening risks such as disease there is high levels of insecurity and thus high levels of religiosity. Poor people who live in rich societies also face greater insecurity and are therefore more religious than rich people in those societies. In rich societies people have high standards of living and are less at risk, thus they have a greater sense of security and thus lower levels of religiosity. Thus the demand for religion is not constant as stark and Bainbridge claim but varies within and between societies. Demand is greatest from low income groups and societies as they’re less secure. This explains why third world countries remain religious while prosperous western countries are secular. Norris and Inglehart note that global population growth undermines the trend towards secularisation. Rich, secure, secular western countries have low population growth whereas poor, insecure, religious third world countries have high rates. As a result while rich countries become more secular the majority of the world is becoming more religious.
In Western Europe the trend is towards increasing secularisation. Norris and Inglehart argue that this is not surprising because these societies are among the most equal and secure in the world with well developed welfare states; this reduces poverty and protects those at the bottom from insecurity. Contrastingly the USA is more religious. Norris and Inglehart argue this is because USA is the most unequal of rich societies with inadequate welfare provision and individualistic dog eat dog values. This creates high levels of poverty and insecurity which creates demand for religion. Thus although America is more religious then Europe this is explained by Norris and Inglehart’s general theory of religiosity as the result of insecurity. For example they point out that although America is religious by the standards of rich nations it is less religious then poor ones.
Norris and Inglehart’s argument is supported by Gill and Lundegaarde (2004) who found that the more a country spends on welfare the lower the levels of religious participation. Thus European nations which spend more than the USA are more secular then the USA. Gill and Lundegaarde note in the past religion used to provide welfare for the poor and still does in poor countries. However from the 20th century the state in the west began to provide welfare and this contributed to religious decline. Nevertheless Gill and Lundegaarde don’t expect religion to disappear completely. Welfare provision meets the need for security however it doesn’t answer ultimate questions about life. Thus although the availability of welfare reduces the need for religion it doesn’t eliminate that need completely.
Vasquez (2007) accepts that Norris and Inglehart offer a valuable explanation of different levels of religious participation globally. However he criticises them. He argues they only use quantitative data about income levels; they don’t examine peoples own definitions about existential security. Vasquez argues that qualitative research is also needed. Norris and Inglehart only see religion as a negative response to deprivation. They ignore the positive reasons people have for religious participation and the appeal that some types of religion have for the wealthy.