A YouGov Poll conducted last year in 2020 shows that the majority of those who celebrate Christmas (and Easter) in the UK do so in an entirely secular way.
The survey results provide some useful evidence to support the view that religion does not play a significant role in British society, as this traditionally Christian and religious event seems now to have lost its religious meaning for the majority of people.
These findings are mainly relevant to the beliefs in society module, especially the secularisation debate.
Below I share some of the findings from this recent survey. NB the Survey looked at both Christmas and Easter, but i only report on XMAS below, ’tis the season, after all!
The Declining Significance of Religion at Christmas
According to YouGov’s sample of almost 2000 people, 61% of them celebrate Christmas in an entirely secular way.
And while 31% say they ‘combine the religious and secular’ at Christmas, if you look at what people actually do, only 20% of them go to Church with 10% reflecting on the meaning of the Birth of Christ, and there must be some kind of overlap between these, so some of those 30% above may say they mix the secular and religious, but at least some of them don’t actually do anything to express that religiosity!
I quite liked this alternative way of measuring ‘religious attitudes at Christmas’ – 71% pay no attention to what the Pope or Arch Bishop of Canterbury say at Christmas…..
Although this doesn’t necessarily measure people’s level of belief, because you can be religious and yet no believe in religious authorities, but this does show us low levels of interest in formal religious hierarchies.
TBH I’m surprised that 27% of the population do pay some attention, I expected that to be lower.
Finally, the perception people have is that Christmas is becoming less religious….
While it’s interesting to know what people think, remember that questions about perceptions don’t tell you what’s actually going on, just what people think is going on!
Sources/ Find out More
You can find out more about the results from this YouGov survey here.
Using material from the item answer the question below
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 the extent of secularisation has been exaggerated (20)
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.
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.
Nearly half of all funerals still have a religious ceremony
All other religions besides Christianity have increased in recent years.
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.
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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This post has been written to assist students studying the beliefs in society module within sociology A-level.
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