6 Arguments for Secularisation

1. Rationalisation

Weber argues that the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther in the 16th Century led to rational ways of thinking replacing supernatural beliefs. It led to the belief that God simply created the world and does not intervene in it. This is known as disenchantment and it contributed to secularisation as people began to view and understand the world scientifically.

Possible critique(s): The theory only focuses on the West and Catholocism.

2. Structural Differentiation

Structural differentiation is the process of speecialisation that occurs through the development of industrial society. Parsons argues that this led to religion being being disengaged from modern society. Before the Industrial Revolution religion was the main source of education and social welfare but these functions have been lost to a secular state and religion is now a privatized part on religion that is personal choice. This is shown by the number of countries that keep religion and the state seperate such as USA, France and Britain.

Possible Critique(s): Northern Ireland is an exception. It is modern and industrialised but the Church js closely linked with the state.

3. Social and Cultural Diversity

Wilson and Bruce argue that the Industrial Revolution led to secularisation. It caused the break up of small, close-knit communities that often expressed themselves through their religion because therecwas a need for the workforce to geographically mobile (move around easily). This meant that new people with various backgrounds and religious beliefs were entering these communities. This reduced the plausibility of religion as everyone’s belief could not be true. The lack of a dominating religion also made it difficult for people to remain religious as it is easier to believe in something if many people practice it as well.

Possible critique(s): Despite the cultural diversity, people may use religion as a form of identity – this links to Huntington and the Clash of Civilisations. Also some religions have created ‘imagined communities so that they feel more connected in a globalised world, e.g televangelism.

4. Religious diversity

Berger argues Catholicism held a monopoly on truth and society was under a ‘sacred canopy’ (basically one belief system). After the Protestant Reformation, the rise of Protestants and other sects that broke away from the  Church led to a ‘plurality of worldviews’ – varying interpretations of the truth. This led to a crisis for credibility and secularisation.

Possible Critique(s): Berger changed his mind later on and now argues that religion can stimulate interest and participation – links to spiritual shopping and religious market theory. Beckford argues that religious diversity has the ability to strengthen faith not always weaken it.

5. Cultural Defence & Cultural Transiton

Bruce argues that religion is used for either cultural defence or cultural transition. Cultural defence is when religion is used as a way defending a culture that is under threat. For example, in Poland Catholicism was a key part of Polish culture that was being oppressed by a Communist state. However, some people still practised their religion in secret as it was a way of expressing their culture. The Catholic church eventually played a key part in overthrowing the state which is another example of religious social change.

Cultural transition is when religion is used to help with the transition to a new society – mainly used by ethnic minorities. E.g when migrants enter the Uk, Bruce argues they will uses places like Mosques or Synagogues as a meeting place where they can make mini communities, find out about job/housing vacancies or feel connected to their culture.

Although it seems to disprove secularisation, Bruce shows religion only thrives when it provides a function to the individual that is more than relating to the supernatural. If you look at Poland, now that they are free to practice their religion, church attendance has fallen.

Possible critique(s): What about the people who are not migrants and are not under threat that practice religion continuosly?

6. A Spiritual Revolution?

Heelas and Woodhead had a theory: Traditional religion is declining and being replaced by New Age spirituality such as crystal healing, aromatherapy, self help books etc. They tested this theory and found out the following:

In Cumbria there were two types of groups – the congregational domain (traditional religion) and the holistic milieu (New Age). Traditional religion was in decline and they argued that this was  because it demanded high discipline and objective which did not fit into post modern society that places importance on the individual. Hence why the New Age and Evangelical churches were growing in Cumbria, they had a subjective view encouraged self-growth and healing.

Despite this, Heelas and Woodhead found that the rise in the New Age was not equal to the fall in tradition. So the New Age was not replacing traditional religion.

Possible critique(s): The study is based one country which means that it is not representative and therefore cannot explain the world.

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