Religion, Renewal and
Theories challenging Secularisation:
Postmodenists argue that religion is not
declining, but merely changing as society
Davie says that religion is taking a different,
more privatised form; it is not declining.
Church attendance is now a personal
choice instead of an obligation so we can
believe without belonging. Thus, the decline
of traditional religion is matched by the
growth of a new form of religion.
Davie notes a trend of a small number of
professional clergy practicing religion on
behalf of a much larger number of people
who experience it second hand.
Reginald Bibby found 25% of Canadians
went to church regularly, but 80% claimed
to have religious beliefs, identified positively
with tradition and turned to religion for rites
of passage (weddings etc.). They seldom
went to church, but took an interest in the
Davie compares vicarious religion to the tip of an
iceberg. Beneath what appears to be only small is
actually a wide commitment. People are drawn to
church at times of national and personal tragedy as it
provides ritual and support.
She says secularisation theory assumes modernisation
effects every society in the same way, resulting in
rationalisation. However, there are ‘multiple
modernities’ (not a single version of modern society).
Instead, religion and science will continue to co-exist.
Voas and Crockett say both church
attendance and belief are declining, so if
we believe but not belong, the latter (belief)
should be increasing.
Bruce says if people are not willing to invest
their time going to church, their beliefs can’t
be that strong.
Hervieu-Leger says there has been a dramatic decline
in institutional religion. She believes this is partly due to
‘cultural amnesia’. We have lost the religion that was
handed down generations; parents let their children
decide their own beliefs now. Also, the trend towards
social equality has undermined the traditional power
of the church to impose religion on people. Young
people no longer inherit a fixed religious identity so
they ignore traditional religion.
But, she notes religion hasn’t disappeared. Individual
consumerism has been replaced collective tradition.
We are ‘spiritual shoppers’.
We have developed ‘DIY’ beliefs that give
meaning to our lives and fit in with out
interests and aspirations. Religion is thus a
spiritual journey in which we choose the
elements to explore.
Two New Types…
Pilgrims follow an individual path in a
search for self-discovery.
Converts join religious groups that offer a
strong sense of belonging.
As a Result…
Religion is no longer the source of collective
identity. However, Hervieu-Leger notes it
does have some influence on society’s
values – such can be a source of shared
cultural diversity and social solidarity, even
for those who aren’t actively religious.
(Her views can be related to the idea of late
modernity – more on this in Chapter 4, Topic
‘Jesus in Disneyland’
Lyon argues that traditional religion is giving
way to a variety of new religions that
demonstrate its continuing vigour. He says
postmodern society has a number of
features which are changing the nature of
The Relocation of Religion
Re-enchantment of the World
The Relocation of
Globalisation has led greatly to increased movements
of ideas and beliefs across national boundaries. This is
due to the central role played in postmodern society
by the media and IT which saturate us with images
and news from around the globe. Therefore, we have
instantaneous access to the ideas and beliefs of
previously remote religions. These ideas have become
‘disembedded’ – the media have lifted them out of
their original context and put them in a different place
The Relocation of
An example of this is the ‘electronic church’
televangelism means people can express
their beliefs without physically going to
So, religion becomes de-industrialised.
Religious signs and images become
detached from their place in religious
institutions and into technology.
We can pick and mix elements of different
faiths to construct our identity. Lyon says
religion has relocated to the ‘sphere of
consumption’. Religion hasn’t been
abandoned – we have become ‘religious
consumers’ making conscious choices
about which elements of religion we find
In her study of American Christian
Fundamentalists, Ammerman found they
made use of a number of churches without
giving strong loyalty to any one of them.
For individual religion, Bellah gives the
example of ‘Sheilaism’. When interviewed,
Sheila explained how she has her own
beliefs but she doesn’t practice.
One effect of having a great variety of
religious products to choose from is loss of
faith in ‘meta-narratives’ – theories or
worldviews that claim to have the absolute
truth. The wide range of beliefs weaken the
traditional claims so previously dominant
religions lose their authority and decline.
So, many new ones spring up for us to
Re-enchantment of the
Lyon says secularisation theory assumes
religion Is declining and bing replaced by
rational explanations. He sees the previous
decade as a period of re-enchantment with
the growth of unconventional beliefs,
practices and spirituality. Although
traditional forms have declines, there is a
growing vitality of non-traditional religion in
the West and its resurgence elsewhere in the
Research shows people choose to view
programmes that confirm their existing
beliefs. Religious media doesn’t attract
many new converts.
Lyons criticisms of secularisation theory
aren’t based on extensive evidence – does
the ‘electronic church’ exist?
Bruce argues the consumerist religion Lyon
describes is a weak religion – it isn’t
evidence for the continuing vitality of
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