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Is the influence of religion in western society declining? Can we reasonably measure its decline? If it is declining, what is replacing it?

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Introduction

Is the influence of religion in western society declining? Can we reasonably measure its decline? If it is declining, what is replacing it? 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 organisations have changed, the question of whether the influence of religion in western society is declining is debatable. There are two main ways in which religion is defined. Substantive definitions define a religious belief system as involving relations between the natural and the supernatural ideas defining religion in terms of structure and content of people's beliefs not what religion does for them. The other way it is defined is as a functional definition, which defines religion in terms of the function it performs for society. Many sociologists have tried to define secularisation, Bryan Wilson (1966), describes secularisation as, the process whereby religious thinking, practices and institutions is becoming less prominent in society and its institutions less important and influential in the lives of individuals. Wilson (1966) stated that those who defined religion in substantive terms are more likely to support the secularisation thesis because they can show that religious beliefs has declined as people accept other more rational explanations of the world. ...read more.

Middle

Bellah (1967) and Luckman (1967) both argue that religion is not in decline but is merely changing form. They say that the public side of religion may be in decline but the private side of religion and personal belief is not. Berger (1967) on the other hand says that religion is losing its traditional place within society saying how the growth of science and technology has questioned it, and suggests that religion, as a way of life is no longer in capacity to do so. On the contrary Voas (2005) gives evidence for a significant rise in church attendance around Christmas time, which can rise by 330% in some diocese in Anglican Britain. Perhaps this suggests that Anglicans choose to go to church only at special religious occasions. Many sociologists looking at secularisation focus on Britain and do not take into account other countries that have taken a huge rise of fundamentalism such as the USA and Iran, which are closely linked too politics. Fundamentalists, such as the Christian Coalition, helped shape the policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations, Bruce (1995). Finally Stark and Bainbridge (1990) suggest that secularisation and strong religious belief alternate in a cyclical pattern. As a whole in society today religion plays a less political role but religion is still a major provider of education and welfare for the poor. ...read more.

Conclusion

* Bouma, G 1992, Religion: Meaning, Transcendence and Community in Australia, Longman, Melbourne. * British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA), viewed 11 April 2009, <http://www.statistics.gov.uk/STATBASE/Source.asp?vlnk=619> * Bruce, S 1995, Religion in Modern Britain, Oxford, Oxford University Press. * Census. Religion in Britain: Office for National Statistics, viewed 11 April 2009, <http://www.nationalstatistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=460> * Demerath, J 1969, Religion in social context, New York, Random House. * Ferraro, K. F & Kelley-Moore, J. A, 2001 Religious consolations among men and women: Do health problems spur seeking? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 220-234. * Hamilton, Malcolm B 2001, The Sociology of Religion, London and New York, Routledge. * Hervieu-Leger, D 1993, La religion pour memoire, Paris, Cerf. * Hughes, P & Thompson, C et al 1995, Believe It or Not: Australian Spirituality and the Churches in the 90s, Christian Research Association, Kew. * Luckman, T 1967, The Invisible Religion, London, The Macmillan Company. * Martin, D 1967, A Sociology of English Religion, New York, Basic Books. * Millikan, D 1981, The Sunburnt Soul: Christianity in search of an Australian Identity, Lancer, Homebush West. * Stark, R & W. S Bainbridge 1990, The Stark-Bainbridge theory of religion, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Berkeley, University of California Press. * Voas D & Crockett A, 2005 Religion in Britain: Neither Believing nor Belonging. Sociology - The Journal of the British Sociological Association, 39 (1) pp. 11 - 28. * Wilson, B 1966, Religion in Secular Society, London, Watts. ...read more.

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