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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 INTRODUCTION The Aim of this Study Pack is provide an understanding of: 1. The question of whether or not secularisation is taking place / has taken place in modern, industrialised, societies. The Objectives of this Study Pack are to provide an understanding of: 1. The way in which the concept of secularisation can be operationalised through the use of three main indicators: a. Religious practice. b. Religious organisation. c. Religious belief. 2. Problems of definition associated with the concept of secularisation. 3. The reliability and validity of statistics relating to religious practice in Britain. 4. The relative level of influence exercised by the Church in "secular" societies Define what Secularisation is: The concept of secularisation is not, as we will see, a particularly easy one to come to terms with in relation to religious activity in any given society. To be sure it is a reasonably simple concept to describe, since it merely relates to the process whereby "religious activity" in any society progressively declines over time. For example, as the arch proponent of the secularisation thesis, Bryan Wilson, defines it ("Religion in Secular Society", 1966), secularisation is: "The process whereby religious thinking, practices and institutions lose their social significance". To put this another way, 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.". The concept of "institutions" in this respect relates to the way religion is socially-organised in any society, while the reference to "symbols" relates to particular religious beliefs and their presence or relative absence in any society. The "problem" to which I've just referred is not, as I've noted, particularly one of definition (although, as with most sociological concepts, definitions do vary); rather, it relates to the way we can, as sociologists, operationalise such definitions. ...read more.

Middle

� As valid as possible. That is: Paints an accurate picture of reality, Measures what it is intended to measure. We can begin by looking at membership levels of Christian organisations in Britain, since this is probably one of the strongest indicators of religious commitment. However, a couple of methodological points need to made: 1. Christian denominations (Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists and so forth) maintain an electoral roll of their members eligible to vote on policy decisions relating to the Church (you may recall that recently, for example, the members of the Church of England (Anglicans) voted to allow women to become vicars). 2. The Roman Catholic Church counts its members differently by simply including all those who attend mass as "members". From a pro-secularisation perspective, the most notable features of statistics on Christian Church membership this century is the remorseless decline in religious participation. In terms of the Christian religions, for example: There has been a 50% decline in membership this century. The percentage of the adult population as members of Churches has declined from 30% - 12%. The Church of England has seen its membership decline form 13.5% of the adult population to 4% of that population. The slight increase in Roman Catholic membership may be due to two things: a. The unreliable way in which membership is measured. b. The fact that the Catholic Church tends to exercise tighter controls over its members than the non-Catholic Christian Churches. From a pro-secularisation viewpoint, Church statistics show two things: 1. The percentage of Christian Church members (Church of England and Roman Catholic - The Trinitarian Churches) is relatively small in terms of the population as a whole (15% in 1992). 2. Church membership has declined significantly in the period covered by the figures. Although these figures need to be treated with care, it does seem safe to conclude that the membership of religious organisations is not only in general decline, but that this decline is progressive (one possible reason for this being that as older members die they are not being successfully replaced...). ...read more.

Conclusion

Sects, he argues, can only exist by offering "exotic novelty" to a "self-selected, self-obsessed and self-indulgent" few (mainly young and mainly middle class). The fact that such New Religious Movement's cannot make the transition from their (undoubted) appeal to the "disaffected few" to the majority in any society is, argues Wilson, evidence of the increasing levels of secularisation in Western societies. Finally in this respect, even in America where many of the New Religious Movements have arisen (considered in terms of the actual numbers of people involved), such sects have tended to be what Wallis has called the "world-affirming" type. That is, their members are members not because of any profoundly-held religious beliefs, but simply because they offer the chance for the powerless, the dispossessed and the disenchanted to "improve themselves" (either economically or spiritually) in this world. The religious content of such sects is seen to be fairly marginal, in that they represent a means towards the achievement of some form of "success" that has variously been denied to the sects' adherents. In this respect, such sects are not driven by fundamental religious values, as such, but by materialistic (that is, secular) values... To sum-up, therefore, the secularisation debate is an important one because it relates to questions concerning the significance of religion as an ideology in both modern and pre-modern societies. As a concept, it touches upon a wide range of questions that, in some shape or form, are sociologically important. However, it is debatable as to whether the concept of secularisation is, in itself, sociologically significant or useful. For a variety of reasons (not the least of these being methodological), it does not appear that the theory can be adequately tested. The questions raised through the use of the concept, however, are important. These include such things as: The significance of religion as a belief system. The relationship between beliefs and behaviour. The relationship between different types of religious organisation. The origin and social significance of New religious Movements. ?? ?? ?? ?? 1/30 ...read more.

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