Assess to what extent is it true that today secularisation is a feature of global religion (33)
Assess to what extent is it true that today secularisation is a feature of global religion (33)
In today’s society there are sociological arguments that say society is becoming more and more secular. A secular society is where religious beliefs and values have lost influence and importance in society. Wilson has argued that Western societies had been undergoing a long term process of secularisation. But is secularisation a feature of global religion not just of western societies? Sociologists put forward different explanations of these trends and have reached different conclusions.
There is evidence to show that there has been a decline in the proportion of the population going to church in the postmodern era. In Britain 2005 there was a 6.3% attendance to church on Sundays, but this is predicted to be as low as 4.7% by 2015. There has also been an increase in the average age of churchgoers, meaning that the younger generations are becoming more secular. However church weddings and baptisms are still popular today with 41% of people having their babies baptised in 2005. On the other hand these statistics may only be the way they are as both of these ceremonies are socially desired today.
Weber comes up with the theory of rationalisation and the fact that rational ways of thinking and acting have come to replace religious ones. He argues that the protestant reformation started the process of rationalisation of life whereby rational scientific outlook found in modern society has undermined religious worldview. He says that this has contributed to the decrease in influence if religious beliefs in society today. He also argues that disenchantment of religion has taken place with the protestant reformation. This meant that events are no longer to be explained as the work of unpredictable supernatural beings, but as the predictable workings of natural forces. All that was needed to understand them was rationality. By using reason and science and, humans could discover the laws of nature, understand and predict how the world works and control it through technology. Therefore there is no need for religious explanations of the world. In Weber’s view this lead to the disenchantment of the world. It squeezed out magical and religious ways of thinking and starts of the rationalisation process that lead to the dominance of rational mode of thought. Following this Bruce argues that the growth of a technological worldview has largely replaced religious or supernatural explanations of why things happen. He says that a technological worldview leaves little room for religious explanations in everyday life. Bruce concludes that although scientific explanations do not challenge religion directly they have greatly reduced the scope for religious explanations. This has therefore shown that with modern society secularisation increases due to rational thinking and science undermining religion.
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However science doesn’t have all the answers and when it does it can be quite blunt and too realistic for our liking. People will still like to believe that when they die for example, they would go to a happy place and meet loved ones. Not blackness for eternity. Also the church is still the only institution that provides religious help ‘life instructions’. It is a humanistic need to want help and follow instructions that can help. Therefore as a global society we might have more faith in science these days but we still need religion for the bits science can’t explain for us.
Parsons argues that the development of an industrial society, structural differentiation has taken place, whereby specialised institutions developed to carry out functions that were previously performed by a single institution. He argues that this has happened to religion. In pre industrialised society it dominated but with industrialisation it has become smaller and more specialised institution. The fact that structural differentiation has happened he says that this lead to the disengagement of religion. The fact that its functions have been transferred to other institutions and have become disconnected from wider society. For example the church as lost influence on education, social welfare and the law. Bruce also agrees that religion has become separated from wider society and religious beliefs are largely a matter of personal choice. Resulting in traditional rituals and symbols losing their meaning. The fact that religion has lost its functions to wider society globally, shows that the level of secularisation is a feature of global religion and it is increasing in society today.
Religious diversity according to Berger is another cause of secularisation, whereby instead of there being just one religion there are many. In the Middle Ages there was just one religion and that religion had a sacred canopy over a wide population, which gave these beliefs greater plausibility because they had no challengers and the church’s version of the truth was unquestioned.
But this all changed with the protestant reformation. Since then, the number and variety of religious organisations has continued to grow and all with different versions of the truth. Berger has argued that this has created a crisis of credibility for religion. Diversity undermines religious plausibility structure. As there are so many alternative religions, people are more likely to question all of them and lead to the downfall of the sacred canopy. This contributes to the nature and extent of secularisation in society today as the fact that time has gone on more religions have been introduced and have undermined each other and therefore can result in the decline in religious beliefs as people won’t know what to belief in.
However as Beckford states that although religious diversity will lead some to question or even abandon their religious beliefs, but it is not inevitable. Opposing views can have the effect of strengthening a religious group’s commitment to its existing beliefs rather than undermining them.
Some sociologists argue that a spiritual revolution is taking place in today’s society. This is where traditional Christianity is giving way to holistic spirituality and new age beliefs and practices that emphasise personal development and subjective experience. However Bruce would argue that these new religious movements are not a religion. Therefore they push aside actual religious beliefs so this is secularisation in society today.
There is also evidence that secularisation is happening in America too. This can also be show through statistics of church attendance. But also sociologists claim that America is becoming secular from within. American religion has adjusted to the modern world as it doesn’t emphasis the traditional Christian values. It has changed from seeking salvation to, personal development and improvement in the world. This change has enabled it to fit into society. So not only has this processed happen in Britain but also happening in America.
There are sociologists that disagree with secularisation theorists. Some argue that religion isn’t declining it is simply changing its form, such as Davie and her theory of believing without belonging and vicarious religion. The fact that people still believe in religion but may not belong to an organisation. The use of falling church attendance ignores the people that believe but don’t go to church and therefore can be unreliable. It is no longer socially desired, so going is a personal choice. Factors such as our lives getting busier on a Sunday than they used to be, due to new government policies, can explain why individuals can’t attend church on a Sunday. Davies vicarious religion theory, believes that only a small amount of people need to attend church as they will then pray and participate for those who can’t make it. On the other hand Bruce believes both of these theories from Davie are not acceptable as the definition for secularisation is when ‘religious beliefs and values have lost influence and importance in society’. If people really believed and have influence then people would still attend church.
Some claim that secularisation theory is one sided. It focuses on the decline and ignores religious revivals and the growth of new religions. Evidence can come from Scientology, it is the fastest growing religion in the world. Also the growth in religious diversity can be seen as increasing participation because it offers choice. There is no overall downward trend. Religious trends point in different directions and people make use of religion in all sorts of different ways. Evidence of religions pointing in different directions can come from the New Christian Right as they have 60 TV channels in America and 400 colleges. But this evidence can be evaluated as the TV channels are not always watched and the 400 colleges seems like a large number but with a population of 313 million, 400 colleges is a small percentage in America.
Most secularisation theories only really can be related to western societies. However Norris and Inglehart’s Security theory can be generalised globally to most religions around the world. Their theory consists of the richer members in society have a greater sense of security leading to a lower levels of religiosity. But the poorer members who have life threatening risks, poor health and high levels of insecurity have high religiosity. Therefore the demand for religion is not constant but it is in third world countries because of the poor conditions compared to our western societies. This is a strong argument against global secularisation as third world countries have a high level of population growth therefore the world could be becoming more religious. This theory has been supported by evidence from Gill and Lundegaarde as they found that the more a country spends on welfare, the lower the level of religious participation. On the other hand Vasquez criticises Norris and Inglehart for using only quantitative data for defining peoples existential security and not examining peoples own definition of security. So maybe they data is invalid. Moreover they ignore the positives of religion and only see it as a security. Nada undermines their research by explaining how the middle class in India are extremely religions because of the bad karma of being rich.
In conclusion there are a lot of theories that can contribute to the extent of secularisation in society today. The fact that rational thoughts have taken over religious ones is very true in our western societies but Norris and Inglehart’s security theory shows the religious growth in third world countries. Therefore I believe that the argument whether secularisation is feature of global religion can’t be concluded globally but with individual countries or continents.