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Secularisation in America

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Secularisation in America

  1. 1. 0 In 1962, Wilson found that 45% of Americans attended church on Sundays. However, he argues that this figure was due to people following the ‘American way of life’, not because they had deep religious beliefs. Wilson claimed America was a secular society because religion had become superficial.
  2. 2. Bruce shares Wilson’s view. He uses three sources of evidence to support his claim that America is becoming increasingly secular… 0 Declining Church Attendance 0 ‘Secularisation from Within’ 0 Religious Diversity and Relativism
  3. 3. Declining Church Attendance 0 Opinion poll research suggests that church attendance has been stable at 40% since 1940. However, Hadaway found that this figure didn’t match the church’s own statistics; if 40% of Americans were going to church, then the churches would be full but they weren’t. 0 Hadaway et al conducted an investigation into their suspicion that the opinion polls had exaggerated.
  4. 4. Declining Church Attendance 0 They conducted their study in Ashtabula County, Ohio and carried out head counts at services and used interviews to ask people if they attended church. They found that the level of attendance claimed by the interviewees was 83% higher than their estimates of church attendance in the country. 0 There is evidence that this tendency to exaggerate churchgoing is a recent development. Until the 1970s, the findings of opinion polls matched the churches’ own estimates, but since then, the ‘attendance gap’ has widened. 0 For example, in 1972 opinion polls exaggerated attendance by 47% in San Francisco, but this had more than doubled in 1996 to 101%.
  5. 5. Declining Church Attendance 0 Thus, Bruce concludes that a stable rate (40%) of self-reported attendance has masked an actual decline. The widening gap may be due to the fact it is still seen as socially desirable or normative to go to church, so people who have stopped going will say they still go if asked in a survey. (possible Hawthorne Effect)
  6. 6. Secularisation from Within 0 Bruce argues that the way American religion has adjusted to the modern world amounts to secularisation from within. Religion in American has become ‘psychologised’ (a form of therapy) and emphasis on traditional Christian beliefs have declines. This change has enabled it to fit in with a secular society, so American religion has remained popular by coming less religious.
  7. 7. Secularisation from Within 0 The purpose of religion has changed from seeking salvation in heaven to seeking personal improvement in this world. 0 This decline in commitment to traditional beliefs can be seen in peoples attitudes 1951 1982 and lifestyles: Playing Cards 77 0 (% agreeing these Social Dancing 91 0 are always morally Going to the 46 0 wrong – adapted Cinema from Hunter) Smoking 93 51 Drinking 98 17 Heavy Petting 81 45 Premarital Sex 94 89
  8. 8. Religious Diversity 0 Bruce identifies a trend towards practical relativism among American Christians, involving the acceptance of the view that others are entitled to hold beliefs that different to their own. 0 Lynd and Lynd’s study shows in 1924 94% of churchgoing young people agreed with this statement: ‘Christianity is the one true religion and all people should be converted to it.’ In 1977, only 41% of people agreed.
  9. 9. Religious Diversity 0 The counterpart to practical relativism is the erosion of absolutism – we live in a society where many people hold views that are totally different to our own, which undermines our assumption that our own views are absolutely true.
  10. 10. Criticisms of Secularisation theory 0 Religion is simply changing it’s form, not declining 0 It is one-sided. It ignores religious revivals and the growth of new religions 0 The falling church attendance ignores people who still believe but don’t go to church 0 Secularisation is not universal 0 The past was not a ‘golden age’ of faith, and the future will not be an age of atheism. 0 Religious diversity increases participation because it offers choice. People can make use of religion in all sorts of different ways.

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