What does the declining levels of church participation tell us about secularisation in contemporary society?

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What does the declining levels of church participation tell us about secularisation in contemporary society?

        In this essay, I shall be exploring the term ‘secularisation’ in contemporary society in relation to the religion of Jesus Christ. Secularisation is a contested argument as key commentators disagree on a number of aspects. For instance; what is the actual meaning of the term, does it make reference to “religion’s displacement, decline, or change” (Demerath III, 2007: 2), it is “long term, linear, inevitable or short-term, cyclical and contingent (Demerath III, 2007: 2). Throughout history its evident that some form of ‘secularisation’ has been occurring with major religious institution and their traditions especially in regards to “religious thinking, practices and institutions” (Wilson et al., 1966: xiv). Church participation is an interesting and reliable element to explore secularisation, as you can differentiate between those Christians who hold religious beliefs and practice regularly in contrast to “nominalist Christians” (Bright in Day, 2011) who take this notion of beliefs for granted and only use Christianity for the purposes of public censuses (Brierley, 1999). I shall explore how secularisation has had an influence on the younger generation, with specifically looking at how youth programmes and their have benefitted from the decline in church participation and the rise of “immanent faith” (Collins-Mayo et al. 2010: 33).

        In order to fully understand the notion of secularisation in contemporary society its important to define the concept. The notion of secularisation is still a debated topic in the 21st century with many scholars, with historical sociologists to anthropologists, providing their own intellectual perspective on the study of secularisation (Brown et al. 2010: 3) Brown and Snape (2010) have had a considerable input with the conceptualisation of secularisation, they stated during the 1970’s that there had always been an acknowledgement that was religion was declining with the “changing patterns of the social significance of religion around the world” (Brown et al. 2010: 3). Snape (2010) argues that secularisation has been impacted by the rise of modernisation and he claims that historians contend that it is also a “mixture of urbanisation, industrialisation and the impact of the enlightenment”. (Snape, 2010: 3) As you can see with the number of interested parties in defining this social phenomenon, it has become “almost everywhere..(and) the definition and conceptualisations has mushroomed together” (Brown et al. 2010: 3).

        Bryan Wilson (1966) was one of the first commentators of secularisation, I shall use his conceptualisation in this essay as a starting point. Wilson agrees to the idea that that modern society has been experiencing a long term process of secularisation, he describes secularisation “as the process whereby religious beliefs, practices and institutions lose significance”. (Wilson et al.1966: xiv). This is referring to sectors such as; culture and society, being drawn away from places of worship and it becomes apparent that religion is not the focal point of society. There is shared consensus amongst commentators that “Britain and the United States were already secular countries” (Snape, 2010: 3). Snape argues that “religion was jeopardised by the large scale indifference to religion, significant hostility to the churches, and the declining institutional strength of religion in the state” (Snape, 2010: 3). All these definitions shape the forever complexity of secularisation

        First of all, in order to get a better understanding of the secularisation in contemporary youth society it is important that we look at the foundations of the family. Defining the ‘family’ has always been a contested and controversial topic significantly by feminists arguing against the ideology of the “monolithic model of the family” (Cheal, 2008: 5) which the church in fact supports. Cheal (2008) further discusses how society and the church stresses on the importance of the nuclear family with a “breadwinner husband and a full-time wife and mother as the only natural and legitimate family form” (Cheal, 2008: 5 This family structure however has changed dramatically with the 2005 English Census providing evidence which disapproves the claim that the nuclear family structure is still in fact largely prominent in society (Brierley, 2006). It’s important to note however our generation is not spectating the end of the nuclear family but in fact the nuclear family does not define the standard for society. The next part of the essay I shall be discussing co-habitation and how some Christians fall in favour of religion due to their lifestyle choice.

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        One of the reasons as to why there is a decline in the levels of church participation is the continued rise in cohabitation. Brierley (2006) study on the 2005 English Census had revealed that there was a steady rise of 5% in the number of ‘co-habitors’ from 1995 to 2005 (10% to 15%), he also estimates that in 2015 20% of the population will be following this trend (Brierley, 2006:2). There are several reasons as to why individuals, significantly the younger generation, choose this form in opposition to the traditional marriage. More and more people viewed it as a ...

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