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Discuss the merits of theories of secularisation with regard to religion in modern Britain

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Introduction

Discuss the merits of theories of secularisation with regard to religion in modern Britain Functionalist sociologists have claimed that religion has always been important in our society and that it continues to be. It is argued that religion has only ever been important to a relatively small number of people in society. While it is clear that religious practices and institutional organisation have changed, the question of whether this demonstrates that secularisation has taken place is debatable. This essay critically evaluates the claim that secularisation is occurring in modern Britain. The claim derives from a broadly social constructionist position, namely one that views secularisation as being 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. The essay begins by outlining the involvement of religious institutions in the organisation and day-to-day running of society, to the extent to which religious organisations are able to exert influence and control over the running of the society in which they exist. It then reviews recent research on religious practice to explore the extent to which people involve themselves in Church membership, attendance and questions the reliability and validity of statistics relating to religious practice in Britain. The essay then goes on investigate the level of individual consciousness, the extent to which people believe in concepts such as God. This level may be significant in terms of secularisation, since religious activity may show relative decline in terms of practice and organisation, however it may still exert a powerful influence over people's lives in terms of personal beliefs. In exploring these issues, the essay endorse a broadly social constructionists standpoint on secular Britain, although it also seeks to highlight a number of potential limitations to this position, particularly as these relate to defining and measuring religion and secularisation. ...read more.

Middle

The statistical evidence does indicator that only a small proportion of people in today's society actively practice religion in term of membership and attendance, but there is also little evidence to suggest that religious practice in the past was significantly greater if the social factors are exclude that contributed to the apparently large number of people practising religion in the past. Brierley's argues that the statistics suggest that there has been a general increase in religious participation amongst other religions over the past 25 years as measured by numbers of those attending services. There has been a 16% increase in the number of active members and an increase of 12% in the number of building and group within the UK. This signifies that religion amongst other domains is progressively rising.1 This is the result of immigrants into Britain, which has changed the religious climate of modern Britain, increasing the religious diversity. Immigrants have brought their own religious practices. These practices tend to be higher; this could be due to immigrates want to maintain some form of common identity and values, rather than it being an indication of religiosity. Callum G. Brown (The death of Christian Britain, 2001) sees 'ethic defence' as an important role in today society. Also as first generation immigrants settle and start families, their numbers increase. This then increases the numbers of original immigrant groups; therefore there are more people in the religious participation age group, rather than an increase in religious practice. Apart from non-Christian denominations, there has been a development and increase in participation of sects and cults over the past 25 years. However sects and cults are numerically small that any slight changes tend to translate into large percentage fluctuations. The method of counting participation is difficult to measure, this making it highly unreliable to measure and count. In spite of this development can be viewed, as evidence of secularisation as members now have little commitment therefor there has been a weakening of the role of religion in institutions. ...read more.

Conclusion

While recent 2001 census figures suggest Britain is still largely religious. The statistical evidence does illustrate that only a small percentage of people in society actively practice religion but there is also little evidence to suggest that religious practice in the past was significantly higher, if the social factors that aided to the high number of people practising religion in the past are excluded. However there has been a movement away from traditional form practising to more of a privatization, a matter of individual choice, which has helped the growth of the New Age Movement. New Religious Movements influence power is not particularly significant, but represent a form of religious vitality. This has resulted in the continuous decline in social importance. While religious pluralism has created new voluntarism. The Church as an institution has lost many of its former functions it performed in pre-industrial societies. Wilson sees it as disengagement from the wider society as evidence as secularisation. While Parson argues that society as undergone structural differentiation, making it more specialized and performing fewer functions. The role of the Church has transformed in modern society; it performs a different role, but one that is no less important. While scientific ideology has succeeded over religion in some areas, religious values, ideas and norms still present people with moral guidelines by which to live. Therefore we may be seeing a reversal of ideological, rather then a replacement. Scientific and religious ideology have always coexisted however I modern society scientific ideological more plausible forms of explanation of life then in the past. Therefore the role of religion has shifted from a focus of explaining everyday meaning, which has been replaced by scientific ideology to explaining deeper meaning such as life and death. For variety of reason especially methodological it does not appear that the theory can be adequately tested. This is due to sociologists using the term 'secularisation' in many different ways. This has led to confusion as writers discussing the process of secularisation are often arguing about different things. ...read more.

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