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Critically discuss the problems faced by sociologists who attempt to define and measure religion and secularisation.

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Introduction

Critically discuss the problems faced by sociologists who attempt to define and measure religion and secularisation. When speaking about secularisation, the same problems are faced as when discussing religion. The issue is difficult to discuss because there is not one consensual definition to the term. Even if there was one single definition upon which everyone agreed on, views about measuring and interpreting the data would vary. This is the problem faced by sociologists today when attempting to establish whether secularisation is occurring in modern day Britain. A common classification of secularisation is the decline of religion and the impact it has on society. Wilson's definition of the term is: "The process whereby religious thinking, practice and institutions loose social significance". However this is open to criticism. Perhaps it is not the fact that views, thinking and practices are less significant, they may just occur less. For those who still believe, religious ideas are still highly significant and hold valuable morals that we should follow. Berger expressed his idea of secularisation as: 'the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols'. He believes that in western societies, there are more and more people who look upon religion as having little impact on their lives. ...read more.

Middle

This had declined to 9% in 1990. This information comes from Church census data and surveys. There has also been a decline in the number of church marriages, christenings and religious funerals. This all supports the secularisation thesis but there are flaws in this study. The study focuses only on the traditional churches. Other religions such as Baptism have a much slower rate of decline while some ethnic minority religions have actually seen an increase in members in recent years. There are also regional differences. Some areas of England show a low attendance record while other parts have a much higher one. Church attendance is not an entirely reliable source for measuring secularisation. Not all religious people attend church regularly. For many people, religion is a private thing that they like to practice in the comfort of their own homes. This can also work the other way, not all people who attend church are religious. Some may go because other family members like them to, or simply because they like the social side of attending church. Perhaps a better way of measuring secularisation is by calculating all those people who hold belief. This does not necessarily mean just all the people who go to church, but includes those who practice at home. ...read more.

Conclusion

There are many reasons for the apparent decline in religious attitudes. Many of the functions of religion such as education and healthcare have been lost to the welfare state. Schools, the social services and the mass media have all contributed to this. Religion has become less influential in moral terms and has been converted into a more private affair. However, Parsons argues that this withdrawal of the church is evidence of structural differentiation, not secularisation. Traditional ways of perceiving the world included the mystical and spiritual. Scientific and empirical explanations have superseded these as technology has advanced. Whatever the reasons for secularisation, the ways of measuring and actually proving that it is happening is very difficult for sociologists. Finding the reasons is a fairly simple task as it does not involve extensive research. For all researches to accurately measure secularisation, they need to agree on a single definition. As Shiner says, "The term is swollen with overtones and implications, especially those associated with indifference or hostility to whatever is considered religious". The best idea is to abandon the word 'religion' in favour of concepts such as faith. If a clear definition is not established, then comparison of studies to discover if Britain is moving towards a more secular society is useless. Vanessa Harris ...read more.

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