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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.