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Modern Britain is now a secular society

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Introduction

Jessica Pemberton Modern Britain is now a secular society. To what extent do sociological arguments and evidence agree with this view? (40) This essay critically evaluates the claim that secularisation is occurring in modern Britain. The claim derives mainly from view that secularisation is the product of industrial revolution and growth of scientific knowledge. Many sociologists have agreed that change in society will lead to changes in religion. Furthermore, many have claimed that social change would lead to the weakening or even disappearance of religion. Many sociologists have tried to define secularisation, Bryan Wilson (Religion in Secular Society, 1966), describes secularisation as, "The process whereby religious thinking, practices and institutions lose their social significance". While Peter Berger (The Social Reality of Religion, 1969) argues that it is "The process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols". Secularisation therefore, is a process whereby "religious activity" in any society progressively declines over time. However, while it is one thing to describe something like secularisation, it is quite another thing to be able to demonstrate that what we have described is actually happening in our society. To be able to measure the concept of secularisation there are two basic ideas that are involved. Firstly, it must be comparative, for example, if society is less religious now, then society will have been more religious in the past. Therefore it is important to measure religious activity in past and present society. ...read more.

Middle

In the past, peoples desire for understanding is fed by the only form of plausible explanation that exists - religion. Berger sees this process as not evidence for secularization but merely evidence of a changing role for religious institutions. Therefore the role of religion has shifted from focusing on explaining everyday meaning to explaining deeper meaning such as life and death. This suggests that secularization is not taking place as religious institutions are merely changing roles. A reason for this is the growth of rationalization, as individuals now look to science rather than religion for answers to their questions. This essay is now going to look at religious practice. There are a number of ways in which we can measure the concept of religious practice, such as Church attendance, membership and ceremonies like marriages and baptisms. Some of the strongest evidence for the secularization thesis comes from Church statistics. The earliest available survey statistics on church attendance originate from the 1851 "census of religion". Using the English Church Census to monitor Church attendances over the past 150 years there has been a decline in attendance over this period from a high of 50% of the adult population in the 1850's to a low of 10% in 1989. Furthermore, in the past 20 years we can notice that there has been a stable decline in Church attendances in general. In 2000 only 7.5% of British adults attend Sunday Church, a decline of 22% since 1990. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, Jose Casanova (1994) argues that these aspects of religion are irrelevant to secularization, for him, the role of religion is the most important. This evidence suggests that evidence for religious beliefs is hard to find and that it can be interpreted in many different ways. Bruce argues that belief in a personal God has declined markedly, and that people are becoming skeptical about their religious beliefs. However, to test the secularization thesis we need to use historical comparable data, which we do not have. Therefore, comparisons of religious belief are not valid. Overall, there is no clear conclusive evidence to suggest modern Britain has been or becoming secularised, even after examining the three main indicators - Religious Organisation, Religious Practice and Religious Thought. The Church as an institution has lost many of its former functions it performed in pre-industrial societies. Brian Wilson sees it as disengagement from the wider society as evidence as secularisation. While Talcott Parsons argues that the role of the Church has transformed in modern society; it performs a different role, but one that is no less important. The 2001 British Census suggests that modern Britain is still fairly religious, however, other statistics show that only a small percentage of individuals actually practice their religion. In regards to religious belief, we cannot make valid comparisons because of the lack of historical comparable data. Finally, the secularization thesis cannot be tested adequately or accurately tested due sociologists defining the term "secularization" in many different ways. In doing this, there are many different interpretations of whether secularization is actually occurring in modern Britain. Jessica Pemberton. ...read more.

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