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Secularisation Sociology Essay Topics

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

4.1. Introduction

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:

  1. "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."

  2. "The loss of prestige of religious institutions and symbols" and the decline in influence of religious organisations.

  3. "The separation of society from the religious world, so that religion becomes purely personal matter."

  4. 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."

  5. "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:

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..

Beckerlegge, Gwilym
(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.

Bruce, Steve
(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.

Crabtree, Vexen
(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).

Dobbelaere, Karel
(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.

Giddens, Anthony
(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.

Momen, Moojan
(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).

Pace, Enzo
(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.

Partridge, Christopher
(2004, Ed.) Encyclopedia of New Religions. Hardback book. Published by Lion Publishing, Oxford, UK.

Stark, Rodney
(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).

Wilson, Bryan
(1966) Religion in Secular Society. Paperback book. 1st edition. Published by Penguin Books.

Wolffe, John
(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.


  1. "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.^
  2. 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.^
  3. Added to this page on 2013 Jun 10.^
  4. 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).^
  5. Gallup (2009) .^
  6. IHEU (2012) p9. Added to this page on 2014 Jul 25.^
  7. "Eurobarometer 225: Social values, Science & Technology". Published by Eurostat (2005) for the European Commission. Accessed 2008 Sep 01.^
  8. National Secular Society newsletter (2007 Mar 02), which included commentary on a Eurostat (2007) publication.^
  9. Wenzel (2011) p185.^
  10. Dobbelaere (2011) p611. Added to this page on 2016 Aug 01.^
  11. Added to this page on 2013 Jun 10. As discovered by vertical sociological investigation (D'Antonio et al. 2007).^
  12. Hoge (2011) p592. Added to this page on 2013 Jun 10.^
  13. Wolffe (2002) p79. Source for Costa Rice and Chile stats. Added to this page on 2011 Jun 19.^
  14. Beckerlegge (2001) p87-88.^
  15. Wilson (1966) p14.^
  16. 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.^
  17. Fenn (2009) chapter "Clifford Geertz" p191-2. Added to this page on 2012 Nov 14.^
  18. 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.^
  19. Wenzel (2011) p172. Added to this page on 2016 Aug 02.^
  20. Stark (1999).^
  21. 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.^
  22. The Economist (2007 Nov 03) insert "A special report on religion and public life" p4.^
  23. 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.^
  24. Bowman, Herbert & Mumm (2009) p73.^
  25. Added to this page on 2012 Dec 15. Paragraph on New Religious Movements added.^
  26. 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.^
  27. The Economist (2009 Feb 07) article "Evolution: Unfinished business".^
  28. Heffner (2011) . Added to this page on 2016 Oct 19.^
  29. Dobbelaere (2011) p612, citing Norris & Inglehart (2004). Added to this page on 2016 Aug 25.^
  30. Giddens (1997) p441.^
  31. James (1902) p468-469.^
  32. Momen (1999) chapter 19 "Religion in the Modern World" p480.^
  33. Partridge (2004) p358.^
  34. Bruce (1996) p56-58.^
  35. Fenn (2009) Chapter "Catherine Bell" p218. Added to this page on 2013 Jun 10.^

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Evaluate the secularization thesis

Evaluate the secularization thesis

Secularization as defined in the Oxford dictionary of Sociology (Marshall G, 1998) is the process whereby, especially in modern industrial societies, religious beliefs, practices, and institutions lose social significance. The secularization thesis argues that this has occurred in modern societies, due to a number of factors. This essay will assess whether this theory has value. I will present the main definitions of religion and the contrasting points of view, as the meaning of religion and both sides of the secularization thesis have to be understood in order to evaluate it.

To be able to comprehend the secularization thesis, religion must, first of all, be defined. There are two main approaches that have been presented by sociologists, the functional and substantive definitions (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). The functional definition relates to the purposes of religion - what it does. It states that one of these purposes may be to 'provide solutions to ultimate problems' (Bruce, 1996). Religion can also provide guidelines for how to behave according to the functional definition, which in turn contributes to social order and stability. The substantive definition sees religion as what it is rather than what it does. So religion could be explained in the following way according to the substantive definition: beliefs and actions, which involve Gods and other supernatural beings (Jorgensen et al, 1997)

It is felt that there are problems with these meanings. Firstly, the functional definition could be seen as defining religion as an umbrella term. For it includes belief systems

which some might not view as a religion, for example nationalism could be seen as a religion under the functional definition as it offers answers to fundamental questions

(one of the purposes of religion). Secondly, it becomes difficult to say what an 'ultimate problem' is in different societies, what is an ultimate problem in one part of the world may not be in another. It is also felt there are problems with the substantive definition. The supernatural is mentioned in this meaning so it excludes religions that do not believe in the supernatural, Buddhism being an example of this. The substantive definition could also be seen as having a Western slant; most Western religions have a God and a belief in the supernatural. This approach can cause difficulties when it comes to identifying those belief systems, in other parts of the world, that do not have a god or a belief in the supernatural as religions.

Proponents of the secularization thesis argue that a change in society has occurred due to modernity and this social change has led to a change in religion resulting in secularization. Pre-modernity, religion namely Christianity was a dominant force and it pervaded all parts of society. All knowledge of the world came from religion and an individual's life was marked by religious events. The Reformation marked a change in the dominant religious tradition in Europe and paved the way for modernity (Bruce, 1996). Science and industrialisation, which were factors in modernity, were also said to add to the decline of religion as people looked to these understandings of the world rather than the religious understanding. Darwin's evolutionary theory is evidence of this as it explains the evolution of man rather than the creation of man.

The work of sociological theorists has given emphasis to the idea of secularization. The function of religion as seen by Durkheim was to promote social solidarity and to

reinforce social values; he claimed that religion was in fact the worship of society. Although he predicted religion would become less significant in an industrialised

society as other institutions such as the education system would provide social solidarity, he did not believe that religion would cease to exist as a result of modernity saying that there was 'something eternal in religion' (Durkheim, 1961 cited in Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). Rationalization was a cause in the subsidence of religion as Weber believed. He foresaw'disenchantment' with the supernatural as rational scientific thought emerged. Weber believed that as societies achieved scientific and technological understandings, people would cease to rely on religious meanings and explanations and instead use rational explanations to understand their world. He believed this was an inevitable outcome of modernisation. Religion as Marx believed was an illusion that kept the working class in their place and maintained the power of the ruling class (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). He thought that religion was the 'opium of the people' (O'Donnell, 1988), which alleviated the pain caused by oppression and exploitation. For Marx, capitalism would aid the decline of religion. This would occur, as classless communism would replace capitalism which would mean that religion would no longer be needed, as the social system it helped to keep in place would no longer exist. be.

So what evidence is there to suggest that secularization has occurred and how is it measured? Much of the evidence that is given is focused on the Christian religion in Britain. Statistics are used to back up the secularization theory. A key theorist on this

issue, Brian Wilson uses statistics as indicators of secularization. These statistics take into account church attendance, church membership and participation in religious ceremonies. The statistics show that there has been a steady decline in formal religious practice (O'Donnell, 1997). Church membership of all Trinitarian churches has fallen from 8.8% in 1970 to 6.4% in 1995. Civil marriages as opposed to church marriages have risen from 40% in 1971 in Great Britain to 48% in 1988 in Great Britain. Other figures also indicate the decline of formal religious practice. The proportion of baptized Roman Catholics who actually attend mass has declined from 47% in 1900 to 33% in 1990. The decreasing number of clergy is also used as indicators of secularization. From 1900 to 1984 there has been a fall by 10,000 in the number of Church of England clerics and since 1975 there have been less than 100 ordinations a year of Catholic priests (Bruce, 1996).

So what other evidence is given as a sign of secularization? The way that people are living their lives could be an indicative sign of religion losing its social significance (Browne, 1998). The disapproval of the church regarding divorce, abortions, homosexuality, contraception and other social issues seems not to have had an impact on people's behaviour. With a recent report stating that 4 out of 10 marriages are expected to end in divorce (Morrison, 2002). This could be said to show a declining importance of religious morals and beliefs in people's lives. Yet there is also evidence that secularization is happening in religion itself, as easier divorce laws, allowing divorced people to remarry in churches, the abolition of Latin in Catholic services and the ordination of women priests can point to the church becoming secularised and abandoning its traditional beliefs.

Other evidence used is the decline of religious institutions and the fact that the power and influence of the church in society has declined. The union that once existed between the state and the church is no more and the church is now in the position where it can disapprove of the governmental policies, which it did with the Conservative government from 1979-1997. Yet the government did not appreciate the views of the church. Other institutions have emerged to take over the roles that the church once played, for example the welfare state now cares for the disadvantaged groups in society. This process of religion withdrawing from and having no influence in public and political life is known as differentiation.

There have been criticisms made of the secularization thesis for a number of reasons. There is evidence to show that while people who are not regular attendees at places of worship or members of religious organisations still preserve religious beliefs (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). The British Social Attitudes survey found that 72% of people claimed to believe in some sort of supernatural power while only 10% claimed they did not believe in God (Bruce, 1996). This shows that religious beliefs are not losing their social significance and that people may feel they do not need religious institutions to have a belief and a relationship with God..

Another point raised is the assumption that religion was as important in the past as claimed. Regular church going in Victorian Britain could have been influenced by non-religious factors as David Martin views it (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). He argues that going to church was purely to achieve respectability and not because they

had religious beliefs. Therefore, the reason for a decline in church attendance may be that there is less social pressure to attend rather than a decline in religious beliefs. If religion was not as important as it has been assumed then it could be the case that there has not been a decline of religion at all and that we are viewing the past as some sort of 'golden era' regarding religion.

The growth of non-Christian religion in Britain can also be used against the secularization thesis. Britain is a modern industrial society yet the number of Muslims for example continues to grow. From 1980 to 1995, the number of Muslims has increased by 274,000, Sikhs by 200,000, Hindus by 35,000 and Buddhists by 28,000 (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). These numbers show that religion is highly significant to these groups in Britain disproving the secularization theory. It also shows that Christianity appears to be the only religion in Britain that is in decline.

Critics cite the USA as a case that proves the secularization thesis wrong. It felt that is a highly industrialised urban modern society yet religion seems to be influential and is an integral part of people's lives. The statistics show a very different picture to Britain. Participation is at a higher rate than that of Britain with 42% of Americans claiming to have attended a church or synagogue in the previous week with 45% of Protestants and 51% of Catholics making up this statistic compared to 10% in Britain (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). A total lack of religious belief is much lower in the USA with the number of Americans claiming to have no religion being between 7 to 8% in the USA compared to 30% of people in Britain (Bruce, 1996).

In conclusion, the secularization thesis does have validity although the theory can only be applied in certain cases. For example, there has been a decline in the influence

of institutional religion on society as a whole yet examples such as America show the theory cannot be applied to all modern nations. The thesis cannot be confirmed yet it cannot be discredited as secularization to some extent has taken place although it has

not gone as far as some supporters of the secularization thesis have claimed. Secularization can be said to have occurred in that there has been a decline in Christian churches regarding membership and attendance and that the influence of the church has abated yet the growth of non-Christian religions and the ongoing religious beliefs that people hold is evidence that modernity does not necessarily mean an occurrence of secularization.

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