There is no agreed definition of the word secularisation- depending on how you define it will determine whether or not it is happening/exists. Some will argue that; secularisation is happening, it never happened, it did happen, or it’s a western issue. The exclusivist definition sees religion as involving beliefs in some supernatural, supra-human being or forces of some kind, which would indicate that secularisation is apparent in modern society as church attendance has declined in the UK from 11.1% of the population in the 1980s, to 6.6% in 2005. The inclusivist definition takes a less traditional approach, and includes beliefs and activities that most wouldn’t define as religious e.g. New Age Movements that look at spiritual therapies; this suggests secularisation isn’t happening and that religion is never likely to decline as alternative activities replace traditional roles of religion. If secularisation is defined as the exclusivist definition, then the UK can be classes as experiencing secularisation.
Different sociologists have different theories contributing to our understanding of secularisation, for example Webers rationalisation theory. However, opponents of the secularisation debate argue that secularisation is only apparent in modern European societies, as church attendance and religious participation is in the increase in countries like America. Firstly evidence supporting the view of secularisation is only in modern European societies includes the decline of religious participation. In the UK, not only has church attendance decreased in recent years; church marriages, funerals and other religious ceremonies have dropped in attendance, as well as an increase in divorce rates and premarital children (50% of all parents) which suggests a decline in moral beliefs.
Bruce suggests that the growth in scientific explanations and the application of technology in modern society has undermined the traditional religious beliefs. However, this decline in religious participation does not apply to the whole of the world. According to the 2004 Home Office Citizenship survey, minority ethnic groups are generally more religious than Whites, as they rank religion as second or third most important indicator of identity- compared to White British who ranked it 10th. Bellah goes against the view that secularisation is only a western European problem and argues that those who attend church in other countries might not be going for religious reasons e.g to get into certain schools- which Davie refers to as ‘belonging without believing’.
Wilson agrees that secularisation is taking place, and argues that churches of modern European societies has recently become disengaged; churches no longer plays a part in important aspects of social life e.g. education, health care, morality or politics, and therefore no longer has influence over the new generation. However in many countries religion still plays a big part in society, as many countries base their culture on religion and many cultural events are still based on traditional religion- this supports the view that secularisation is only a feature of modern European societies. Although, others argue that the decrease in traditional religion influence is not evidence for secularisation, as in modern society religion has resacularised; people are turning from traditional beliefs into spiritual.
For example the increase in diversity of New Age Religions e.g. yoga and meditation have an increasing participation rate. Postmodernists argue that religion is not declining its just being reorientated, which gives individuals a chance to pick n mix aspects of society to suit them. Wilsons theory of disengagement of churches could also be criticised as many churches still have connections to modern day society, for example many charities are linked with the church, the Queen is the head of state, and there are 26 Bishops in the house of Lords. This means that secularisation is not actually a feature of modern European society as it is misinterpreted due to the recent change in focus of religion which is moving away from traditional beliefs and taking on spiritual values. Weber believes that the increasing rationalisation of the world has drained the magic and mystery out of religious ways of thinking.
Science has provided the basis for the advance in technology that gives humans the power to control nature and undermine the religious worldview that events can be explained by using the will of God. Humans therefore have lost the ability to experience a sense of sacredness and mystery in life. This disenchantment cannot apply in undeveloped, 3rd world countries as this scientific belief and advance in technology hasn’t reached there, and many countries manage to combine science and religion. Religion in places of suffering is still justified by these societies as being a ‘plan’ made by God, and therefore religion acts as a glimpse of hope. Therefore secularisation is only a feature of modern society, especially in developed counties like European societies.
A growth in fundamentalism has returned in many countries, where pockets of the world take religious very seriously and take the literal meaning of religious texts and associated behaviour- so secularisation is a feature of only European societies. Although some would argue that this is only reinserted due to strong socialisation into being very religious (especially through family and education), so being religion is a cultural influence rather than a personal choice/belief. Some sociologists argue that religion has undergone Disneyfication; Lyon suggests post modern society has trivialised religion in order to appeal to the modern society by promoting fun and amusement. In order for religion to survive in the modern European societies, it has to market itself (like a spiritual supermarket).
However this does not necessarily count as secularisation, as others argue that this marketing of religion gives a wider choice of religion which technically creates more religion- post modernists argue that disneyfication enhances religion. However, religious pluralism sees power in society spread among a wide variety of interest groups and individuals, which no single one having a monopoly of truth. People in modern society have a huge choice of religion- and can be a part of more than one religious institution. This means it is very hard to measure participation due to the vast amount of religions and therefore secularisation has been misjudged in modern European society. Marxists and Feminists would go against this view as they believe religion is still playing its role in creating conflict between different social classes, and therefore secularisation cannot be taking place.
To conclude, the view that secularisation has been a feature of modern European societies is debated by many sociologists, and these theories and contributions are useful in explaining why some countries are experiencing secularisation more than others. It recognises current issues like disenchantment, disneyfication and the new insights of scientific explanations. However it is heavily criticised by other sociologists for ignoring important aspects of society, like religious pluralism and many studies are outdated so no longer apply tp modern societies. Feminists would argue that religion still plays its role in exploiting women, and Functionalists believe religion is still acting as social glue. Postmodernists also disagree and believe that religion is more diverse in modern society so individuals can have more choice in what they believe.