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Using evidence from the Census of Religion Worship 
(1851), Crockett found that 40% of the adult 
population attended church on Sundays. This led to 
claims that the 19th century was the ‘golden age’ of 
religiosity.
 A decline in the number of churchgoers 
 An increase in the average age of churchgoers 
 Fewer baptisms and church weddings 
 A decline in the number holding Christian beliefs 
 Greater religious diversity
 Wilson argues that Western societies had been under 
going a long-term process of secularisation. In 1960, 
the percentage of churchgoers fell from 40% to just 10- 
15%. All of the declines have led Wilson to believe that 
Britain has become secular. He defines secularisation 
“the process whereby religious beliefs, practices and 
institutions lose social significance.”
 6.3% of the adult population went to church in 2005, and 
it has been projected to fall to 4.7% by 2015. 
 The English Church Census (2006) concluded that the 
attendance/membership of large religious organisations 
(e.g. C of E/Catholic Church) has declined more than 
that of smaller organisations. However, the growth of 
smaller organisations has not made up for the decline 
from the larger ones. 
 Weddings and Baptisms are still more popular then 
Sunday services. In 1971, three fifths of people married in 
church, compared to just one third in 2006. in 1991, 55% 
of baptisms took place in a church, compared to 41% in 
2005.
 More people claim they hold traditional Christian 
beliefs than belong/go to church. 
 Religious belief is declining. 
 Gill et al reviewed 100 national surveys on religious 
beliefs between 1936-1996. they show a significant 
decline in the belief of a God or Jesus. 
“Would you describe yourself as being of any religion or 
denomination?” 
 1950: 23% said no 
 1996 43% said no
 There has also been a decline in the influence of religion as a social 
institution. The state has taken over many of the functions that the church 
used to perform (but... The church still does have some influence on public 
life). Religion has increasingly been relegated to the private sphere of the 
individual and the family. 
 For example, until the mid 19th century, the churches provided education, 
but since then it has been provided mostly by state. Although there are 
‘faith schools’, they are mainly state funded and have to stick to the 
National Curriculum. Similarly, although there is a legal requirement for 
schools to provide a daily act of collective worship of ‘broadly Christian 
character’, a BBC survey in 2005 found that over half the 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 doubled in size. The clergy number should 
be 80,000 had it kept with population growth. A lack 
of clergy means the influence of the church in 
everyday life is reduced.
 Bruce agrees with Wilson that all the evidence on 
secularisation has been pointing in the same direction 
for many years. 
 He said that whatever we measure (church 
membership/attendance etc.), we find there is a steady 
and unremitting decline. 
 Bruce predicts that if current trends continue, the 
Methodist church will fold around 2030 and by then 
the C of E will be merely a small voluntary 
organisation with a large amount of heritage property.
 A common explanation is modernisation, involving the 
decline of tradition and its replacement with rational and 
scientific ways that tend to undermine religion. 
 Another is the effect of social change. For example, 
industrialisation leads to the break up of small 
communities that were hold together by religious beliefs. 
 The growth of social and religious diversity. It has 
undermined both the authority of religious institutions 
and the credibility of religious beliefs.
Weber 
 Rationalism refers to the process by which rational ways if 
thinking and acting come to replace religious ones. 
 Weber argues that the Protestant Reformation begun by 
Martin Luther in the 16th century started a process of 
rationalisation in the West. 
 For Weber, the medieval Catholic worldview that dominated 
Europe saw the world as an ‘enchanted garden’ 
God and other spiritual beings (angels, the devil) were believed 
to be present and active in this world, changing the course of 
events through their supernatural powers and miraculous 
inventions. People could challenge them through prayers, 
fasting etc to ensure good harvest and protect against disease.
 However, the Protestant Reformation brought about a 
new worldview. Protestantism saw God as transcendent 
(existing above, beyond and outside this world). He did 
not intervene with it, but left it to run according to its 
own laws of nature (like a watchmaker). 
 This meant events were no longer to be explained as the 
work of the unpredictable supernatural beings, but that 
of the predictable workings of natural forces. Using 
reason and science, humans could discover the laws of 
nature and predict how the world works and control it 
through technology. Religious explanations were no 
longer needed.
 In Weber’s view, the Protestant Reformation begins 
the ‘disenchantment’ of the world by squeezing out 
religious ways and starting off the rationalisation 
process. This enables science to thrive and provide the 
basis for technological advances which gives humans 
more power to control nature. This undermines 
religion.
 Bruce 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, we look for technological 
explanations instead of blaming it on evil spirits. 
 A technological worldview leaves little room for religious 
explanations, which only survive where technology is least 
effective. E.g., we may pray if we are suffering from an illness 
medicine cannot cure. 
 Bruce concludes that scientific explanations don’t challenge 
religion directly, but they have greatly reduced the scope for 
religious explanations. It doesn’t turn people to atheism, but 
it results in people taking religion less seriously.
 Parsons defines this as a process of specialisation that 
occurs with the development of industrial society. 
Industrialisation means religion has become a smaller 
and more specialised institution, despise the fact it 
dominated pre-industrial society. 
 Structural differentiation leads to the disengagement 
of religion. Its functions are transferred to other 
institutions so it becomes disconnected from wider 
society.
 Bruce argues that religion has become separated from 
wider society and lost many of its former functions. It has 
become privatised to the sphere of the home and family. 
Religion is now personal choice and so traditional rituals 
and symbols have lost their meaning. 
 Even where religion continues to perform functions, it 
must conform to the requirements of the secular state. 
Likewise, church and state tend to become separated in 
modern society. The state should not be identified with 
one particular faith, as religion is mainly personal choice.
 The move from pre-industrial to industrial society leads 
to the decline of community and this contributes to the 
decline of religion. Wilson argues that in pre-industrial 
society, shared values were expressed through collective 
religious rituals that integrated individuals and regulated 
their behaviour. 
 Bruce sees industrialisation as undermining the 
consensus of religious beliefs that hold small rural 
communities together. Social and geographical mobility 
not only breaks up communities but bring people 
together from many different backgrounds, creating 
more diversity.
 Diversity of occupations, cultures and lifestyles 
undermines religion. Even religious people cannot 
avoid knowing people around them have different 
views. Bruce argues that plausibility of beliefs is 
undermined by alternatives and individualism. In the 
absence of a practising religious community that 
functions daily, both religious belief and practice tend 
to decline.
The view that the decline of community has resulted in 
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 
 Some religious communities are imagined 
communities (interact via global media) 
 Pentecostal and other religious groups open flourish in 
‘impersonal’ urban areas
 Berger says another cause of secularisation is the 
trend towards religious diversity where there are many 
religious organisations and interpretation of the faith. 
 In the middle ages, the Catholic Church held an 
absolute monopoly so everyone lived under a single 
sacred canopy or set of beliefs shared by all. So, beliefs 
had greater plausibility due to no challengers, so the 
Church’s view was unquestioned.
 This all changed with the Protestant Reformation (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 with a different 
version of the truth. No church can now claim an 
unchallenged monopoly of the truth. Society is no longer 
unified under the single sacred canopy. 
 Instead, religious diversity creates a plurality of life 
worlds, where people’s perceptions of the world vary and 
where there are different interpretations of the truth.
 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 so many alternatives of religion, 
people are likely to question all of them, which erodes 
certainties and traditional religion. Religious beliefs 
become rather than absolute.
Bruce identifies two counter-trends that seem to go against 
secularisation theory. 
 Cultural Defence: religion provides a focal point for the 
defence of national, ethnic, local or group identity in a 
struggle against an external force (e.g. hostile foreign 
power). Examples include the resurgence of Islam before 
the revolution in Iran in 1979 (read about this in Topic 5!) 
 Cultural Transition: religion provides support and a sense 
of community for ethnic groups to a different culture or 
country. 
But, Bruce argues that religion survives in such situations 
as it is a focus for a group identity. These examples merely 
show religion is most likely to survive where it performs 
functions other than relating individuals to the 
supernatural.
 Berger has changed his views and now argues that 
diversity and choice actually stimulate interest and 
participation in religion, 
 Beckford agrees that religious diversity will lead some 
to question or abandon religious beliefs, but this is not 
inevitable. Opposing views can have the effect of 
strengthening a religious group’s existing belief, 
instead of undermining them.
 In which traditional Christianity is giving way to 
‘holistic spirituality’ and practices that emphasise 
personal development and subjective experience. 
Increased interest in spirituality can be seen in the 
growth of a ‘spiritual market’, with an explosion in the 
number of books about self-help and spirituality 
alongside the many practitioners offering ‘therapies’.
Heelas and Woodhead did a study of Kendal 
(Cumbria) into whether traditional religion has declined 
and, if so, how far the growth of spirituality is 
compensating for this. 
They distinguish between two groups… 
 The Congregational Domain – traditional and 
evangelical Christianity 
 The Holistic Milieu – of spirituality and the New Age
They found that in 2000, in a typical week, 7.9% of the 
population attended church and 1.6% took part in the 
activities of the holistic milieu. However, within the 
congregational domain, the traditional churches were 
losing support, but evangelical churches were doing 
relatively well. Although fewer were involved in the holistic 
milieu, it was growing. 
They offer an explanation for this trend…
 New Age spirituality has grown because of a massive 
subjective turn in today’s culture. This involves a shift 
away from the idea of doing your duty and obeying 
external authority, to exploring your inner self by 
following a spiritual path. 
 Traditional religions therefore are declining because they 
demand duty and obedience. It is up to us to seek out 
answers for ourselves. 
 Evangelical churches are more successful because they 
emphasise the importance of spiritual healing and 
personal growth through being ‘born again’, despite 
demanding discipline.
 In the spiritual marketplace, the winners are those 
who appeal to personal experience as the only source 
of meaning and fulfilment. Nevertheless, Heelas and 
Woodhead argue that a spiritual revolution has not 
taken place. So, secularisation is occuring in Britain 
because the subjective turn has undermined the basis 
of traditional religion.

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Secularisation (Part 1): Britain

  • 1.
  • 2. Using evidence from the Census of Religion Worship (1851), Crockett found that 40% of the adult population attended church on Sundays. This led to claims that the 19th century was the ‘golden age’ of religiosity.
  • 3.  A decline in the number of churchgoers  An increase in the average age of churchgoers  Fewer baptisms and church weddings  A decline in the number holding Christian beliefs  Greater religious diversity
  • 4.  Wilson argues that Western societies had been under going a long-term process of secularisation. In 1960, the percentage of churchgoers fell from 40% to just 10- 15%. All of the declines have led Wilson to believe that Britain has become secular. He defines secularisation “the process whereby religious beliefs, practices and institutions lose social significance.”
  • 5.  6.3% of the adult population went to church in 2005, and it has been projected to fall to 4.7% by 2015.  The English Church Census (2006) concluded that the attendance/membership of large religious organisations (e.g. C of E/Catholic Church) has declined more than that of smaller organisations. However, the growth of smaller organisations has not made up for the decline from the larger ones.  Weddings and Baptisms are still more popular then Sunday services. In 1971, three fifths of people married in church, compared to just one third in 2006. in 1991, 55% of baptisms took place in a church, compared to 41% in 2005.
  • 6.  More people claim they hold traditional Christian beliefs than belong/go to church.  Religious belief is declining.  Gill et al reviewed 100 national surveys on religious beliefs between 1936-1996. they show a significant decline in the belief of a God or Jesus. “Would you describe yourself as being of any religion or denomination?”  1950: 23% said no  1996 43% said no
  • 7.  There has also been a decline in the influence of religion as a social institution. The state has taken over many of the functions that the church used to perform (but... The church still does have some influence on public life). Religion has increasingly been relegated to the private sphere of the individual and the family.  For example, until the mid 19th century, the churches provided education, but since then it has been provided mostly by state. Although there are ‘faith schools’, they are mainly state funded and have to stick to the National Curriculum. Similarly, although there is a legal requirement for schools to provide a daily act of collective worship of ‘broadly Christian character’, a BBC survey in 2005 found that over half the secondary schools in Wales failed to comply with this.
  • 8.  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 doubled in size. The clergy number should be 80,000 had it kept with population growth. A lack of clergy means the influence of the church in everyday life is reduced.
  • 9.  Bruce agrees with Wilson that all the evidence on secularisation has been pointing in the same direction for many years.  He said that whatever we measure (church membership/attendance etc.), we find there is a steady and unremitting decline.  Bruce predicts that if current trends continue, the Methodist church will fold around 2030 and by then the C of E will be merely a small voluntary organisation with a large amount of heritage property.
  • 10.  A common explanation is modernisation, involving the decline of tradition and its replacement with rational and scientific ways that tend to undermine religion.  Another is the effect of social change. For example, industrialisation leads to the break up of small communities that were hold together by religious beliefs.  The growth of social and religious diversity. It has undermined both the authority of religious institutions and the credibility of religious beliefs.
  • 11. Weber  Rationalism refers to the process by which rational ways if thinking and acting come to replace religious ones.  Weber argues that the Protestant Reformation begun by Martin Luther in the 16th century started a process of rationalisation in the West.  For Weber, the medieval Catholic worldview that dominated Europe saw the world as an ‘enchanted garden’ God and other spiritual beings (angels, the devil) were believed to be present and active in this world, changing the course of events through their supernatural powers and miraculous inventions. People could challenge them through prayers, fasting etc to ensure good harvest and protect against disease.
  • 12.  However, the Protestant Reformation brought about a new worldview. Protestantism saw God as transcendent (existing above, beyond and outside this world). He did not intervene with it, but left it to run according to its own laws of nature (like a watchmaker).  This meant events were no longer to be explained as the work of the unpredictable supernatural beings, but that of the predictable workings of natural forces. Using reason and science, humans could discover the laws of nature and predict how the world works and control it through technology. Religious explanations were no longer needed.
  • 13.  In Weber’s view, the Protestant Reformation begins the ‘disenchantment’ of the world by squeezing out religious ways and starting off the rationalisation process. This enables science to thrive and provide the basis for technological advances which gives humans more power to control nature. This undermines religion.
  • 14.  Bruce 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, we look for technological explanations instead of blaming it on evil spirits.  A technological worldview leaves little room for religious explanations, which only survive where technology is least effective. E.g., we may pray if we are suffering from an illness medicine cannot cure.  Bruce concludes that scientific explanations don’t challenge religion directly, but they have greatly reduced the scope for religious explanations. It doesn’t turn people to atheism, but it results in people taking religion less seriously.
  • 15.  Parsons defines this as a process of specialisation that occurs with the development of industrial society. Industrialisation means religion has become a smaller and more specialised institution, despise the fact it dominated pre-industrial society.  Structural differentiation leads to the disengagement of religion. Its functions are transferred to other institutions so it becomes disconnected from wider society.
  • 16.  Bruce argues that religion has become separated from wider society and lost many of its former functions. It has become privatised to the sphere of the home and family. Religion is now personal choice and so traditional rituals and symbols have lost their meaning.  Even where religion continues to perform functions, it must conform to the requirements of the secular state. Likewise, church and state tend to become separated in modern society. The state should not be identified with one particular faith, as religion is mainly personal choice.
  • 17.  The move from pre-industrial to industrial society leads to the decline of community and this contributes to the decline of religion. Wilson argues that in pre-industrial society, shared values were expressed through collective religious rituals that integrated individuals and regulated their behaviour.  Bruce sees industrialisation as undermining the consensus of religious beliefs that hold small rural communities together. Social and geographical mobility not only breaks up communities but bring people together from many different backgrounds, creating more diversity.
  • 18.  Diversity of occupations, cultures and lifestyles undermines religion. Even religious people cannot avoid knowing people around them have different views. Bruce argues that plausibility of beliefs is undermined by alternatives and individualism. In the absence of a practising religious community that functions daily, both religious belief and practice tend to decline.
  • 19. The view that the decline of community has resulted in 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  Some religious communities are imagined communities (interact via global media)  Pentecostal and other religious groups open flourish in ‘impersonal’ urban areas
  • 20.  Berger says another cause of secularisation is the trend towards religious diversity where there are many religious organisations and interpretation of the faith.  In the middle ages, the Catholic Church held an absolute monopoly so everyone lived under a single sacred canopy or set of beliefs shared by all. So, beliefs had greater plausibility due to no challengers, so the Church’s view was unquestioned.
  • 21.  This all changed with the Protestant Reformation (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 with a different version of the truth. No church can now claim an unchallenged monopoly of the truth. Society is no longer unified under the single sacred canopy.  Instead, religious diversity creates a plurality of life worlds, where people’s perceptions of the world vary and where there are different interpretations of the truth.
  • 22.  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 so many alternatives of religion, people are likely to question all of them, which erodes certainties and traditional religion. Religious beliefs become rather than absolute.
  • 23. Bruce identifies two counter-trends that seem to go against secularisation theory.  Cultural Defence: religion provides a focal point for the defence of national, ethnic, local or group identity in a struggle against an external force (e.g. hostile foreign power). Examples include the resurgence of Islam before the revolution in Iran in 1979 (read about this in Topic 5!)  Cultural Transition: religion provides support and a sense of community for ethnic groups to a different culture or country. But, Bruce argues that religion survives in such situations as it is a focus for a group identity. These examples merely show religion is most likely to survive where it performs functions other than relating individuals to the supernatural.
  • 24.  Berger has changed his views and now argues that diversity and choice actually stimulate interest and participation in religion,  Beckford agrees that religious diversity will lead some to question or abandon religious beliefs, but this is not inevitable. Opposing views can have the effect of strengthening a religious group’s existing belief, instead of undermining them.
  • 25.  In which traditional Christianity is giving way to ‘holistic spirituality’ and practices that emphasise personal development and subjective experience. Increased interest in spirituality can be seen in the growth of a ‘spiritual market’, with an explosion in the number of books about self-help and spirituality alongside the many practitioners offering ‘therapies’.
  • 26. Heelas and Woodhead did a study of Kendal (Cumbria) into whether traditional religion has declined and, if so, how far the growth of spirituality is compensating for this. They distinguish between two groups…  The Congregational Domain – traditional and evangelical Christianity  The Holistic Milieu – of spirituality and the New Age
  • 27. They found that in 2000, in a typical week, 7.9% of the population attended church and 1.6% took part in the activities of the holistic milieu. However, within the congregational domain, the traditional churches were losing support, but evangelical churches were doing relatively well. Although fewer were involved in the holistic milieu, it was growing. They offer an explanation for this trend…
  • 28.  New Age spirituality has grown because of a massive subjective turn in today’s culture. This involves a shift away from the idea of doing your duty and obeying external authority, to exploring your inner self by following a spiritual path.  Traditional religions therefore are declining because they demand duty and obedience. It is up to us to seek out answers for ourselves.  Evangelical churches are more successful because they emphasise the importance of spiritual healing and personal growth through being ‘born again’, despite demanding discipline.
  • 29.  In the spiritual marketplace, the winners are those who appeal to personal experience as the only source of meaning and fulfilment. Nevertheless, Heelas and Woodhead argue that a spiritual revolution has not taken place. So, secularisation is occuring in Britain because the subjective turn has undermined the basis of traditional religion.