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Modern Britain is now a secular society. To what extent do sociological arguments and evidence agree with this view?

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Sarah Lee 13L Mrs. Evans 30th October Modern Britain is now a secular society. To what extent do sociological arguments and evidence agree with this view? Primarily it is important to classify what secularisation is. Bryan Wilson (1966) described it as 'the process where by religious thinking, practise and institutions lose social significance' but this is not universally accepted. Some sociologists believe Wilson's secularisation thesis however some disagree. It is difficult to quantify secularisation but Wilson has attempted to do so by measuring church attendance. The 1851 census noted that 40% of the adult population regularly attended church in comparison to 8.2% in 1997 and the number of people who attend religious ceremonies such as baptism and funerals has also dramatically decreased. Wilson argues that this is clear evidence of secularisation. Bellah, an interpretivist sociologist, questions the validity of such statistics because people who attend church are not necessarily practising religious belief. Religion is a private matter and can consequently not be scientifically measured. Grace Davie (1995) seconds this view suggesting that secularisation needs to separate believing and belonging. ...read more.


It must be therefore noted that Wilson's thesis of secularisation is decidedly ethno centric. Secularisation theoretically occurs in modernised countries but USA has a vast religious population but it should also be argued that it is difficult to classify 'modernised'. There has also been increased interest in NRM's over the past few decades. Wilson describes this as further evidence of secularisation rather than a new religious revival as such resistances to secularisation as wimsiful. He argues that members have only short-lived interests who are attracted more to the lifestyle than to religion itself. Examples are Paganism and quasi-religious Scientology. Greely and Nelson argue that the growth of such organisations is a product of secularisation of the established churches who have become stale and boring and suggest that people have turned to evangelical Christian fundamentalism as a more exciting form of worship which is especially attractive to younger people. Durkheim a functionalist wrote in a more classical era of sociology that secularisation although brought about due to industrialisation is not irreversible (unlike Marx) as religion would reassert itself as sacred symbols and communal rituals are necessary for societies to survive. ...read more.


For example people still religious explanations for events such as the death of a loved one and they 'go to God' and surveys indicate that 70% of the UK population profess a strong belief in God. In addition it could be stated that in modern day society there has been a trend where people are unwilling to demonstrate their commitment to there believe. Membership to trade unions, political parties etc demand a high level of commitment to peoples time have decreased whereas low commitment organisations such as the Natural Trust has increased. It could be argued that the popularity of NRM/NAM's has increased due to the low level of commitment demanded upon members. In conclusion it is clear that there are changes in institutional religion in the UK. However it is difficult to label whether these changes can be described as secularisation or not. As sociologists cannot agree on a universal definition of the measure of religious belief it is difficult to state whether or not secularisation has occurred. Quantifiable measures such as church attendances are too simplistic to measure true levels of religious belief. It is also important to note than Stark and Bainbridge argue that secularisation is most probably a cyclic process and that religion merely changes and adapts rather than declines. ...read more.

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