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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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Disengagement as Evidence of Secularization

Within the secularization debate, disengagement is the process of religious institutions becoming less involved in political and social life. It is the general withdrawing of religious institutions from wider society.

If we take a long term view and compare the role of the church in British society today with its role in medieval times, religious institutions certainly seem to have disengaged from politics and society.

James VI Scotland In the 16th Century for example, church and state were tightly bound together, through the doctrine of the ‘Divine Right of Kings‘. This doctrine was famously developed by James VI of Scotland, also James I of England. It held that the King, who was also the head of state, could only be judged by God, and no other human being.

However, as argued by Max Weber, the spread of Protestantism and especially Calvinism, laid the foundations for the collapse of this tight interweaving of church and state. Protestantism preached that individuals should get to know God personally, which led to more individualistic forms of worship. This in turn led to the decline of institutional religion – people no longer relied on the church for their spiritual sustenance, they could get this themselves in their own way.

This came to a head in the English Civil War of 1641-52, which established the English Commonwealth, and subjected the monarch to the will of Parliament rather than the ‘will of God’. From the mid 17th century forwards, the Divine Right of Kings, and the ‘total union’ of church and state was thus broken.

Although the Church of England still played a prominent role in politics for many centuries, the establishment of the Commonwealth nonetheless laid the foundations for ordinary people being able to challenge the monarch and play more of a role in politics, thus making the church more beholden to the power of a larger number of people rather than just the king.

Over the next few centuries, people became less religious and democracy became more representative, so gradually the church came to play less of a role in politics.

Institutional Disengagement in Britain Today

There is a lot of evidence that the church plays a less significant role in politics and society. 

Even if political leaders have strong religious convictions, they generally keep these convictions out of politics. Tony Blair, for example, was a fervent Catholic, and yet his spin Doctor, Alistair Campbell was adamant that New Labour ‘didn’t do God’.

Some human rights legislation actually outlaws some religious practices on the basis of equality. 

For example, Christians who believe homosexuality is wrong have been banned from being foster parents by the courts. This follows the 2010 Equality Act, which protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of a range of ‘protected characteristics’, one of which is sexuality.

The Church of England has become increasingly critical of government policy, and the government has largely ignored many of these criticisms. 

For example, the C of E has recently criticized the Tories ideological decision to cut spending of public services. it has highlighted the horrific consequences these cuts have had on the poorest sectors of British society. The Tories, being Tories, have just ignored the C of E and carried on harming the poor.

Evidence against Disengagement 

Jose Casonova argues that the trend towards disengagement in Britain and Europe are the exceptions to the global trend. Casonova suggests that globally, there are many examples which show that religion is becoming more prominent in social life. It is especially easy to find examples of religion playing a prominent role in political conflicts globally:

  • The Arab Spring uprisings across Northern Africa and the Middle East
  • The ongoing conflict between the Arabs and Jews in the Middle East
  • The growth of Christian Fundamentalism in the USA.

Casonova effectively argues that since the 1980s, when we look at religion in global perspective, a process of deprivatisation has been occurring.