Evaluate the view that extent of secularisation has been exaggerated (20)

Using material from the item answer the question below

Item

Numerous surveys on religious belief and church attendance in the UK and around Europe suggest that people are becoming less religious year on year, leading many sociologists to theorise why secularisation is occurring.

However, other sociologists suggest that religion may be changing, rather than declining, especially when we broaden our perspective and look at religion more globally.

Evaluate the view that extent of secularisation has been exaggerated (20)

Decode:

  • Make sure you deal with different theories of secularisation, addressing both behaviour and belief.
  • Be sure to address the idea of change rather than decline.
  • Make sure to address globalisation.

Introduction

  • Secularisation usually measured by beliefs, behaviour and belonging
  • On all measurements, the UK certainly seems to be getting more secular
  • HOWEVER, there are limitations with the evidence, and possible counter trends, especially when we look at religion globally.

Statistical Evidence for secularisation

  • Beliefs – an increasing number of people in UK say they don’t believe in God, now up to >30%; younger people less likely to believe in God than older people; also Census belief figures.
  • Behaviour: <5% of the adult population attend church regularly, only 20% of marriages are church marriages and only 10% of children are baptised.
  • Belonging: 50% of adults now class themselves as having no religion, almost 75% of 18-24 year olds
  • There’s been about a 10% decline in active C of E membership in the last decade.

Counter Trends

  • Nearly half of all funerals still have a religious ceremony
  • All other religions besides Christianity have increased in recent years.

Disengagement

  • There used to be a close tie between church and state (Divine Right of Kings etc.)
  • However, today politicians keep they’re religion out of politics
  • Civil Rights law bans discrimination on the basis of religion
  • The C of E is critical of the government, but the government ignores it.

Counter trends

Cassonva argues that looked at globally a process of ‘de-privatization’ of religion is occurring. Some events suggest religion is important significantly: The Arab Spring for example, and the influence of the conservative new right  in U.S. politics.

Rationalization and Disenchantment

  • Max Weber argued development of science, technology and social bureaucracies undermined the role of religion in society.
  • Science meant knowledge claims could be assessed objectively and empirically, rather than religious truth claims which could not be tested (so it’s more open and democratic, thus more appealing)
  • Also the advances of science, when applied to technology and industry (the industrial revolution) improved society without the need for religion.
  • While rational organisation of society (schools/ hospitals/ political movements) led to further social improvements, again without religion.
  • All of this led to disenchantment, or the decrease of the role of mystery, magic and superstition in explaining social phenomena and in helping people determine what they should do.

Criticisms of the idea that rationalization undermines religion

  • Steve Bruce – although science and technology have challenged religious beliefs, people still turn to religion when technology fails.
  • The New Age Movement and continued influence of the Christian Right in the USA show that religion is still important to many.

Religious pluralism as evidence of secularization:

  • Bruce argues that the increasing diversity of religion results in secularization:
  • Because there is no one religion, religion no longer binds individuals to society like it used to.
  • Secondly, the state finds it more difficult to support religion.
  • This ties in with Durkheim’s functionalist theory that one religion acts as a collective conscience. However, when there is no longer one religion, it cannot perform this function!

Arguments against religious pluralism as evidence of secularization 

  • Pluralism may be the only way religion can ‘work’ as part of a postmodern society.
  • Many non-Christian religions are growing. Maybe ‘de-Christianisation is a more accurate concept than secularisation?
  • There is evidence that people still selectively use religion at times of crises.

Evidence against secularisation: postmodernism/ believing without belonging

  • Postmodernists suggest that the nature of religion is changing, rather than disappearing completely.
  • It might be that religion now plays a more significant role in some aspects of life: religious leaders are like ‘morality experts’ who can give guidance in an uncertain, risk society.
  • People also still selectively use religion during life crises.
  • Davie also argues that many still believe, but just don’t attend church.
  • This way of practicing religion is maybe a better fit with postmodern society.

Evidence against secularisation: a global perspective

  • Secularisation certainly appears to be happening in Europe.
  • HOWEVER, globally, religion is still a powerful force: The Arab Spring, and Fundamentalist conflicts for example.

Thoughts on a Conclusion

Given the problems with defining and measuring religion, it’s difficult to say whether it’s ‘decline’ has been exaggerated, but on balance of the evidence it seems fair to conclude that religion has declined in Europe, but it is far from ‘dead and buried’,

However, looked at globally, religion appears to be more significant than in Europe, so maybe sociologists should be more careful not to fall into a Eurocentric perspective when evaluating the extent of secularisation.

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